52 years later, a transformation largely unknown is translated, celebrated

A copy was presented to President Reuven Rivlin at a gathering of rabbis and archbishops at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

April 21, 2017 03:47
4 minute read.
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN addresses clergy at a gathering 52 years after extraordinary changes were ma

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN addresses clergy at a gathering 52 years after extraordinary changes were made to Roman Catholic doctrine about Jews, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem yesterday. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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One of the most important transformations in modern religious history was the change in attitude of the Catholic Church toward the Jewish people and faith. The doctrinal shift was set down by the Second Vatican Council in a 1965 declaration titled Nostra Aetata (In our Time).

There was concern that many people in Israel – Jews and Christians of all denominations – were unaware of this revolutionary change. That led to the publication two years ago of a Hebrew translation of the document under the title B’Et Hazot. And on Thursday, to mark the 52th anniversary of the Vatican’s declaration, a copy was presented to President Reuven Rivlin at a gathering of rabbis and archbishops at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

The Hebrew edition was the result of efforts by Prof. Dina Porat, head of the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry and the Moshe Kantor Database for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University; Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballah, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate; and Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, among others who translated and edited the volume.

In the book, Porat credits the change in Roman Catholic doctrine to Pope John XXIII, who as Angelo Roncalli, a papal nuncio during the Second World War, aided Jewish rescue operations and, according to Porat, generally put himself at the disposal of Jews doing such work.

He continued that goodwill after the war as pope, expunging offensive terms and passages from Catholic liturgy that related to Jews.

Porat said the most important aspects of Nostra Aetate were: Jews as a people are no longer held responsible for the crucifixion; the Church accepts Jews as the chosen people; and the Vatican denounces antisemitism.

She calls these ideas “a theological earthquake.”

In continuity with Nostra Astate, Porat said, Pope Francis in 2015 issued a declaration calling for rapprochement and dialogue with the Jews. “The problem is that the public at large does not know about this process,” she said. As a result, the Jewish people still view the Catholic Church with distrust, ever mindful of centuries of persecution.”

She was hopeful that the book would be read by “anyone who wants to be part of the dialogue.”

Referring to Rivlin’s visit the previous day to the Latin Patriarchate, Pizzaballa said that only a few years ago such a meeting would have been impossible.

During his 27 years in Israel, Pizzaballa said, he has witnessed positive changes in attitude toward the Christian community among Jews.

He acknowledged that relations have had a “problematic” history, but said recent decades have seen a major change that is “irreversible.”

Today, the Catholic Church will fight against any form of antisemitism he declared, emphasizing that Jews are no longer alone in this fight. “The painful past must become a blessed present,” he said.

Porat introduced the next speaker by saying, “Wherever there is contact between Jews and Christians you will find Rabbi Rosen.”

Rosen – perhaps the most knowledgeable person on the evolution of Church attitude at Thursday’s gathering – said nothing in history can equal this transformation: from declaring Jews condemned and rejected by God, destined to wander forever and linked with the devil – to being hailed as “dearly beloved elder brother of the Church” by Pope John Paul II during his 1986 visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome and again during his 2000 visit to Israel.

Rosen attributed a great part of the change to television. It was important for Catholics to see the pope at Yad Vashem and at the Western Wall; to learn that he took Jewish children who were baptized into the Catholic faith during and immediately after World War II and restored them to their religious heritage.

“The Catholic Church is no longer part of the problem of antisemitism,” he said. “It is a critical solution. We are partners in combat against that scourge.”

Rivlin told the audience that Theodor Herzl once met with Pope Pius X in the hope of getting his support for bringing Jews back to the land of Israel. But the pope refused, telling Herzl that if the Jews were not willing to accept Jesus, he was not willing to accept the Jewish people.

“We’ve come a long way since the meeting between Pope Pius X and Herzl,” said Rivlin.

Though more than 50 years have passed since the revolutionary declaration of Nostra Aetate, Rivlin said he regretted that the revolution has remained silent.

“Even though Jews don’t know much about it, I’m not sure that many Christians do either,” he said.

Rivlin than urged greater understanding, compassion and brotherhood between Jews and Christians throughout the world and recommended that the book be read in every home in Israel.

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