Jewish Group Unhappy with Vatican Document That Fails to Consider Religious Significance of Israel
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Jewish Group Unhappy with Vatican Document That Fails to Consider Religious Significance of Israel

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A Jewish ecumenical group has vented serious criticism of a new Vatican document on Catholic-Jewish relations published in Rome Monday which it considers a retrogression from the historic “Nostra Aetate” (Our Times) that emerged from Vatican Council II in 1964 and the December 1, 1974 “Guidelines and Suggestions for the Application of the Declaration Nostra Aetate.”

The criticism by the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) was more in regret than anger. It referred to a document, “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church.” The Notes, three years in preparation, are the work of the Vatican Commission on Religious Relations With the Jews, headed by Johannes Cardinal Willebrands.

They were presented at a Vatican press conference by the Rev. Father Pierre Duprey and Msgr. Jorge Mejia, vice president and secretary respectively of the Commission, and appeared in the Vatican organ, L’Osservatore Romano. According to a statement by the IJCIC yesterday, the Notes fail to acknowledge the religious significance of the State of Israel to the Jewish people and refer only briefly and superficially to the Holocaust.

The IJCIC member organizations are the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the Israel Interfaith Committee, the World Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, the umbrella organization of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism in the U.S.


The statement expressed the IJCIC’s “disappointment over what we perceive to be the repressive spirit and formulation about Jews, Judaism, the Nazi Holocaust and the meaning of Israel. ” The Notes gave “little recognition of how the Jews conceive of themselves,” the statement said.

It warned that the Notes “may undermine the gains we have achieved through dialogue, joint study and joint action in recent years. For this reason, we are all the more dismayed that unlike ‘Nostra Aetate’ itself and the ‘1975 Guidelines’ which affirmed the duty of Catholics to consider the Jews a living people, ” the Notes were published “without prior consultation with the Jewish community.”


Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, IJCIC president, said he has sent a cable to Cardinal Willebrands asking for clarification and consultation on the Notes. The IJCIC statement said the Notes were “totally inadequate in providing Catholics with sufficient guidelines on how to teach, preach and understand” the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, the two events that have “decisively shaped the way Jews define themselves.”

The statement cited as an example Paragraph 25 of the Notes which states that “The existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law.” The IJCIC statement observed that “even within this narrow frame of reference, nothing is said about Israel’s right to exist or in the justice of her cause.” The statement said that in the context of the Vatican’s Notes, “Modern Israel is emptied of any religious significance for Christians” and “even Israel’s profound religious significance for Jews” is mentioned “in such a recondite fashion as to be unrecognizable.”


The statement found that “equally grievous is the vague, passing and almost gratuitous reference” to the Holocaust and observed that “the absence of a strong statement on the Holocaust is particularly painful.”

The passage referred to says that “Catechesis should … help in understanding the meaning for the Jews of the extermination during the years 1939-1945 and its consequences.”

The IJCIC declared that the Notes aimed at remedying “a painful ignorance” among Catholics “of the history and traditions of Judaism” but the text of the Notes does not remedy that “painful ignorance” because “neither Jewish history nor Jewish traditions are explored in the Notes or even referred to as having an independent value. Indeed, the history and traditions of Judaism are appropriated by the Church.”

The Notes allude to the “negative” relations between Jews and Christians “for two millenia but offer nothing of this history. How can Jews and Judaism be presented in Catholic teaching and preaching without some acknowledgement of the historical expressions of Christian animosity?” the statement asked.


The Notes were also the subject of comment yesterday by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the association of Reform synagogues. The UAHC is not a constituent of the IJCIC.

Schindler observed that this latest Vatican document “reintroduces a note of religious triumphalism.” He added that “Any effort to improve understanding between the two faiths requires, above all, mutual respect. Each faith must learn to see the other as it defines itself.”

Schindler said little progress could be made toward better relations “if one sees the other as being denied the means of salvation, and as somewhat lesser in the eyes of God. It is equally disappointing that the new Vatican document makes such short shrift of the Holocaust, and that it ignores the religious significance or the rebirth of the State of Israel.”

The Reform leader added that it was “a pity” that the 20th anniversary of Nostra Aetate “should be marked by this apparent retreat from the historic step forward taken by the Second Vatican Council.” Nostra Aetate declared specifically that the Jewish people must not be held responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

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