Latest Papal Encyclical Criticized
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Latest Papal Encyclical Criticized

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The American Jewish Congress has voiced “surprise and. disappointment” at a statement in Pope John Paul II’s recent Encyclical that it says “misrepresents” the Biblical injunction of “on eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Henry Siegman; executive director of the AJCongress, took objection to a passage in the Pope’s “Divis in Misericordia,” issued Dec. 2, which calls the Old Testament injunction a “distortion of justice.” In a letter to Msgr. Jorge Mejia of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Siegman expressed hope that “the necessary steps will be taken to clarify and correct this passage.”

The passage stated; “Not in vain did Christ challenge his listeners, faithful to the doctrine of the Old Testament, for their attitude which was manifested in the words: ‘on eye for on eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ This was the form of distortion of justice at that time; and today’s forms continue to be modeled on it.”


This passage, Siegman said, “is entirely inconsistent with the other passages in the Encyclical dealing with the Old Testament. It is also inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the Vatican ‘Guidelines for the Implementation of Nostra Aetote’ of 1975, which represented so important on advance in Catholic-Jewish relations.”

The Guidelines, Siegman noted, urge that Catholics not set “the Old Testament and the Jewish tradition founded upon it … against the New Testament in such a way that the former seems to constitute a religion of only justice, fear and legalism, with no appeal to the love of God and neighbor.”

But, he continued, “this is precisely what his passage seems to do. More important, this passage misrepresents the Judaism of the time of Jesus, which in fact understood and interested the Biblical ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ to require monetary compensation for injury inflicted on one’s fellow man. Indeed, there is no evidence that it was ever interpreted in Judaism to require or to permit inflicting physical injury.”

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