NEW YORK (May. 11)
Significant improvements have been made since Vatican Council II in the way Catholic textbooks describe Jews and Judaism but many of the old negative references still persist, a leading Roman Catholic educator declared today.
Dr. Eugene Fisher, in his first public appearance as the newly appointed Director of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated that although Catholic school texts now contain “numerous positive and corrective statements (about Jews)…which would have been impossible or highly improbable just a few short years ago,” they retain many statements indicative of ambivalent attitudes on the part of publishers and textbook writers.
This ambivalence, he added, also exists in the attitudes of classroom teachers, with the result that young Catholics today “are not given adequate background for dialogue with American Jews.” Fisher, who was formerly Consultant for Teacher Training in the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, made his remarks at a dinner meeting of AJ Committee’s Interreligious Affairs Commission, prior to the official opening tomorrow of the organization’s four-day annual meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel here.
“The negative stereotypes concerning Jews and Judaism have become so deeply embedded in our catechesis that, like anti-Black racism, they are difficult to spot from the inside,” Fisher said.
Responding to Fisher’s comments, Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, AJ Committee’s National Director of Interreligious Affairs, declared that “one of the most significant developments of the past decade in interreligious relations is the fact that Christian and Jewish scholars, clergy, educators and lay people are collaborating in multiple ways to overcome the destructive heritage of anti-Semitism and bigotry, and are laying foundations of a new culture of Jewish-Christian relations, whose hallmarks are mutual respect and friendship.”
CITES NUMBER OF IMPROVEMENTS
Fisher based his comments on his study of 15 major religion series currently in use in Catholic elementary and high schools as well as in adult education. The series covered the entire spectrum of major Roman Catholic textbook publishers in the United States, and included 153 student texts and 105 teacher manuals published between 1967 and 1975.
Among the improvements that Fisher noted in his study was the fact that such negative phrases as “Christ-killers” and “blood-thirsty Jews” have been “fairly effectively expunged” from the texts, which now use such expressions as “the enemies of Christ” and “some of the Jewish leaders” in describing the people who were involved in the crucifixion. But this is not a satisfactory solution to the problem, he maintained.
“It remains historically questionable,” Fisher declared, “whether one can even blame ‘some Jews’ for the death of Jesus, when the deed was clearly done in a Roman manner–crucifixion–under the orders of the Roman governor–Pilate–and when the only Jews that the New Testament implicates as involved–the high priest and the Temple officials–were in fact Roman appointees susceptible of recall from Rome and not indigenous Jewish leaders’ at all.”
Another subject area in which Fisher found the beginnings of progress, especially in high school texts, was the Nazi Holocaust. “I found no less than 50 references to the Holocaust,” he said. “While most used it simply as an example of human moral evil, some texts rather courageously sought to grapple with the fact of Christian involvement in and responsibility for this horror of horrors.”