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New Era in Christian-jewish Relations Seen at Rabbinical Convention

May 24, 1965
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There is a new era in the relationships with the Christian world and the Jews must be prepared for it, Rabbi Max J. Routtenberg, president of the Rabbinical Assembly told the 65th annual convention of the organization of Conservative rabbis at the opening session last night. He criticized denigrators of antireligious dialogue.

“We are deeply disturbed that in certain Jewish circles there has developed an almost complete obsession with the discussion at the Vatican to the virtual exclusion of all other Jewish concerns,” he said. “It would appear from their statements that the future of Judaism depended largely on what was being said and done in Rome. As Jews, we ought to remember that for us, the word of the Lord emanates from Jerusalem, not Rome, and we have lived by that word and survived to this day because of it.”

At the same time, he stressed, “we view with dismay the response in other Jewish groups which calls for retreat and withdrawal from any dialogue with the Christians. The attitude as expressed by a leading Orthodox layman that the beliefs and teachings of our neighbors are their concern, not ours, is not true. As neighbors, we are deeply affected by each other’s beliefs,” he said. It is “critically important,” he went on, “that we engage in a dialogue better to understand each other and, where possible, to modify or alter each other’s views.”

But there is “one unqualified reservation that all Jews share,” he warned. This is that “nothing good will come of any Jewish-Christian dialogue which has as one of its motivations the desire to convert Jews to Christianity. Any suspicion that this still remains the avowed purpose of the Church will nullify and vitiate all attempts at a constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, the Church has not yet been sufficiently explicit to dispel this suspicion.”

Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, addressing the 500 delegates today, disputed the theory of “the vanishing American Jew” and said that, instead, a “new breed” has appeared on the scene. He warned, however, that the failure of the American Jewish communal leadership to provide a “crash program” of support for the training of rabbis and teachers may make the dire prediction of disappearance come true. He advised the rabbis to plunge into the leadership of all phases of American Jewish life “in the battle for Jewish authenticity and Jewish survival.”

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