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American Jewish Committee Takes Issue with Rabbis on Talks in Rome

June 25, 1964
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The American Jewish Committee took issue today with the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox group, which charged the 58-year-old Jewish organization with involving itself in “areas of theology” by seeking the adoption of a statement on Catholic-Jewish relations by the Ecumenical Council which is to resume its session in September. The rabbinical group, at its annual convention this week, urged that inter religious cooperation between Christians and Jews be conducted on the basis of “sound sociological doctrine rather than the complicated area of theology.”

A statement issued today by Morris B. Abram, president of the American Jewish Committee, pointed out that greater cooperation and understanding between the Jewish, Protestant and Catholic communities has been a major responsibility of the American Jewish Committee in its intergroup relations program since its establishment in 1906.

“A primary objective of its human relations program in this area arises out of the long-felt need to counteract the stereotype of the Jew as a ‘Christ-killer,’ which has been an underlying source of hostility to the Jew for almost two millenia,” the statement said. “As a basic step in this program, we have stimulated Christian religious educators and intergroup research specialists to examine their teachings with regard to content growing out of this stereotype.

“No organization seriously wishing to come to grips with anti-Semitism can avoid realizing that such teachings, found in prayers and liturgy, in Sunday school lessons and weekly sermons, have proved to represent one of its most profound and subtle roots, serving not only to stigmatize the Jews but also to rationalize continued persecution,” the statement pointed out.

“This centuries-old problem,” the statement continued,” was first broached as a subject for scientific examination and analysis 30 years ago, when the American Jewish Committee suggested to Protestant leaders a series of self-studies of church and Sunday-school teaching materials. Out of this suggestion have come historic findings, first under the aegis of Drew University, later at Yale Divinity School. Early in 1963, Yale University Press published ‘Faith and Prejudice,’ by Dr. Bernhard E. Olson, the report of Yale’s seven-year project in this field. Only recently a report on a parallel self-study of Catholic teaching at St. Louis University was released, and is already having a profound influence.”


Pointing out that a similar purpose motivated establishment by the American Jewish Committee in 1961 of a chair in intergroup relations at the International University for Social Studies “Pro Deo,” in Rome, the first such project at a European Catholic institution of higher learning,” Mr. Abram stated: “The movement toward critical self-examination on the part of the religious communities of the impact of their teachings in the formation of attitudes toward other groups is, in part, traceable to the pioneer work of the American Jewish Committee, A great impetus was given to the movement by the advent of Pope John XXIII and the convening of the Vatican Council, and particularly through the efforts of Cardinal Bea.

“Shortly after the announcement of the convening of the Vatican Council in Rome, the American Jewish Committee was invited by high Church officials to submit, out of its long background and experience in this field, practical suggestions for improving Catholic-Jewish relations. Drawing on its own studies, on substantial research by its own staff, and after consultation with eminent scholars and rabbis representing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish viewpoints, the Committee prepared and submitted two comprehensive, scholarly memoranda to one of the preparatory commissions of the Vatican Council. A third memorandum, prepared by an eminant American Jewish scholar and professor of a leading Jewish theological seminary, was subsequently submitted, also by invitation from Catholic authorities in Rome.


“The Committee’s memoranda pointed to practical problems and documented them with specific illustrations,” the AJC statement stressed.” We did not, as some of our critics in the rabbinate have recently suggested, look to enter into “areas of theology” nor “blur the distinctive religious character of each faith community.” On the contrary, we emphasized the social, psychological, and human relations consequences of specific statements found in educational, liturgical, and homiletic materials, quoting extensively from Catholic sources. Our emphasis on human relations concerns earned our documents the approval of an Orthodox Rabbi with whom they were shared, as well as with Conservative and Reform Rabbis, and prominent university scholars.

“These documents were among matters discussed in late March 1963, when Cardinal Bea met with Jewish religious leaders including the rabbinate at the American Jewish Committee’s Institute of Human Relations in New York. At this meeting were a group of outstanding Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Rabbis, in their capacity as individuals, along with members of Cardinal Bea’s entourage and officers of Pro Deo University in Rome.

“The American Rabbis who attended included faculty members of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the then president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, the president of a leading Orthodox Jewish university, the then president of the Synagogue Council of America, and the then president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

“Earlier, consultations had been held with a leading Orthodox scholar of Yeshiva University, the President of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, Professors of Jewish history at Columbia and Harvard Universities, the President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and one of its distinguished faculty members, and the President of Yeshiva University.

“The American Jewish Committee’s concern for relationships between Catholics and Jews has at all times been based upon its competence and long experience in intergroup relations; moreover, where useful it has collaborated with, or drawn upon, the expertise of scholars and leaders who have made important contributions to the cause of Christian-Jewish relations in various parts of the world. Thus the criticism of our activities as being involved in “areas of theology” is unfounded. If at any time theological matters entered into the consideration, Jewish theological scholars of renown were consulted.”

The statement concluded with pointing out that the private audience which a group of leaders of the American Jewish Committee held with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican recently was non-theological in nature. “It was strictly within the framework of our human relations concerns and our responsibility to assist in the betterment of Catholic-Jewish relations,” the statement stressed.

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