Jewish Leaders Welcome, with Some Reservations, New Vatican Guidelines, Meeting Set in Rome
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Jewish Leaders Welcome, with Some Reservations, New Vatican Guidelines, Meeting Set in Rome

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Jewish leaders welcomed today, with some reservation, a set of guidelines published last Friday by the Vatican to implement the “Declaration on the Jews” issued in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council. The new guidelines were prepared by the Catholic Church’s Commission on Relations with Judaism.

Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, the American Jewish Committee’s director of Interreligious affairs and co-secretary of the international Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations which includes the AJCommittee, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Israel Committee for Interreligious Contacts, Synagogue Council of American and the World Jewish Congress, said a meeting of Jewish and Catholic leaders will be held in Rome from Jan. 7 – 9 to discuss the present state of Catholic-Jewish relations in many parts of the world. The meeting will be co-sponsored by the International Jewish Committee and the newly-established Vatican Commission for Catholic-Jewish Relations.

This will be the fifth annual meeting of Vatican and Jewish leaders, Rabbi Tanenbaum said. The latest Vatican guidelines, which include a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism and call for joint studies and social action, provide a constructive basis for the forthcoming sessions in Rome, he said. The new guidelines, however, fall somewhat short of total acceptance by Jewish leaders.


“While the guidelines represent in its entirety a positive contribution to the improvement of Catholic and Jewish understanding, it left unresolved several critical questions, namely that of a place of Israel in Jewish life, a clear Catholic policy on proselytization regarding Jews, and an adequate Christian understanding of Judaism as a living religion,” Rabbi Tanenbaum stated.

“We hope that the meeting in Rome will provide an opportunity for further clarification of these questions,” he added. “The agenda of the meeting will provide for discussions of these and other questions. Special attention will be paid to the rise of anti-Semitism, including the Arab and Soviet campaigns.”

Rabbi Tanenbaum also noted that some of the sections in the guidelines imply a religious “second class” status for Judaism “in the family of faith communities.” He criticized particularly the “assertion of a conversionary intention” which he said assumes that Judaism is “inadequate as the source of truth and value to the Jewish people.”


In general, the guidelines reiterated the church’s condemnation of anti-Semitism and its call for sweeping action to eliminate all forms of discrimination against Jews in the church’s worship and teaching proposed dialogue, affirmation of a joint Biblical and theological heritage and emphasis on “common elements of liturgical life” to improve relations between Catholics and Jews; urged Catholic respect for the Jew’s faith “and his religious conviction”, warned against unfavorable comparisons between the New and Old Testaments, and called for a common search for social justice.

The International Jewish Committee said the guidelines would encourage better understanding and applauded the stand against anti-Semitism. But the committee also said that the text of the guidelines failed to include a reference to Israel and made no reference to the issue as to whether Jews were to be considered as needing conversion to Christianity.


Dr. Nahum Goldmann issued a statement last night supplementing the formal comment on the Vatican document by the International Jewish Committee. The president of the World Jewish Congress said he welcomed the text of the Vatican’s new guidelines as a “very positive document” that provides “a good basis for future, cooperation between Jews and Catholics.” He noted that the new guidelines “also reflect a desire for goodwill and understanding, a spirit of mutual respect and the recognition of some basic differences.”

Dr. Goldmann stated that the Vatican document “should be viewed in its proper context.” The guidelines, he observed, “were intended for Catholics. There are some omissions which I personally regret, and doctoral affirmations resulting from the unavoidable divergencies between Christianity and Judaism.” But these deficiencies, he added, “do not stem from any lack of understanding of Jewish commitments.”

Seymour Graubard, chairman of the ADL, praised the Vatican’s condemnation of anti-Semitism and said that “although the lack of reference to Israel or the Land of Israel is disappointing, the guidelines are nevertheless an affirmative step forward and a good worldwide working document which will open new vistas in Catholic education and new perspectives in liturgy.”

Graubard added that in the United States, the Catholic Church, since the Second Vatican Council, has developed its own set of guidelines which in some respects are more specific and advanced than those issued in Rome. He gave as examples the 1967 guidelines by the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Religious Affairs, and those of individual dioceses around the country.

They call for various grass roots programs involving mutual understanding and social action and for examination and removal of school texts and prayer books which are not in accord with the content and spirit of the Vatican II “Declaration on the Jews” and which fail to show Judaism’s positive role in history.

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