Jewish-Christian relations in light of the Church

As someone who works in the field of Jewish- Christian relations I recently found myself with a meeting scheduled at a monastery in the Galilee.

THE FUNERAL of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE FUNERAL of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As someone who works in the field of Jewish- Christian relations I recently found myself with a meeting scheduled at a monastery in the Galilee. This meeting just happened to come along at a time when my father was visiting from Canada, so I urged him to come along, to see the extraordinary design and architecture of the building and learn something about Christian life in Israel. My father was unsure, as a man with a healthy degree of skepticism toward religion generally, and some settled ideas about the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews.
Some of this is my own fault. Because of my own years of research and work, my father has become wellacquainted with evangelical- Jewish relations and Christian Zionism, and the efforts underway in that corner of the Christian world to develop better Jewish-Christian relations. As with my father, I find many Jews today to be surprised and deeply skeptical of about relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews.
Increasingly there’s a tendency, particularly in Israel, to see Christian support for Israel, Christian efforts to combat anti-Semitism and Christian love for the Jews primarily through an evangelical, Christian Zionist lens. For many Jews, Roman Catholic priests taking Judaism seriously, celebrating Jewish holidays, honoring Torah and learning Hebrew is a shock.
I do not mean in any way to minimize the importance (and complexity) of evangelical Christian support for Israel and efforts in building better relations between Christians and Jews. But it would be a tragic mistake to forget the work underway in other expressions of Christianity.
There are lovers of Israel and the Jews to be found among all denominations, just as there are evangelical anti- Semites. It’s a mistake for Jews in Israel and abroad to narrow our Christian conversation partners, challengers and allies down to a single branch of Christianity.
The life and legacy of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini is a case in point. His passions included the Bible, his beloved Jerusalem, and the possibilities for dialogue and peace between Jews and Christians.
CARLO MARIA Martini was born in Italy in 1927. In 1944 he entered the Society of Jesus in 1944 and he was ordained as a priest in 1952. Martini was an academic, with earned doctorates in theology and Scripture.
From 1962 he held the chair of Textual Criticism at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and went on to serve as rector from 1969-1978. There he encouraged Catholic students to come to Israel to study a program of Judaism, archaeology and Hebrew language.
At the pope’s request in 1979 he went on to serve as archbishop of Milan. Martini was ordained an archbishop in 1980 and elevated to cardinal in 1983. With his retirement in 2002, Martini returned to scriptural study and Jerusalem, moving to the Pontifical Biblical Institute until his declining health brought him back to Italy. He passed away after years of struggling with Parkinson’s, in 2012.
Martini was a faithful and public defender of the reforms of Vatican II, the Council that, lest we forget, was responsible for setting Jewish-Christian relations in an entirely new direction with Nostra Aetate in 1965. Martini was explicit in his conviction that the Catholic Church could only understand itself fully through understanding the Jewish people. “Toward that end” he wrote, “we must understand how the Jews perceive themselves.”
This is an extraordinary statement.
The importance of inviting Jews to interpret ourselves, and to take our own self-conceptions seriously as part of making sense of the Church’s own identity, cannot be overestimated.
Martini also insisted that “Simple anti-anti- Semitism is not enough. It is thus necessary to develop motivations for a friendship that in the heart of the other increasingly reads the thoughts that we share, and that finds a space for the differences, making sure however that these differences do not lead to conflict or dismissal.”
It is indeed most appropriate that his memory is being celebrated later this month with a Jewish and Christian pilgrimage from Italy to Israel. The group – that includes cardinals, emeritus chief rabbis, scholars and laypeople will engage in many important activities to honor Martini’s legacy and recognize his special bond with the land of Israel and the Jewish people, to stand as an example of what can be done and what must be done for the future.
These include the dedication of a JNF forest near Tiberias in his name, a joint Jewish and Christian prayer service at the Kotel, a meeting with Jewish religious leaders and an evening reception and lectures with local Jews and Christians at the Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations at Yezreel Valley College.
CARDINAL MARTINI’s chosen episcopal motto stands out, offering us a vision of courage and devotion to truth both precious and critical values in our effort to live together in these complicated times. The words are both a dare and a direction: Pro Veritate Adversa Diligere, “For Love of the Truth, Seek Out Adverse Situations.”
No doubt restricting our conversation partners makes things less challenging.
As such, however, our encounters become less truthful. May we honor the spirit of daring and truth as we walk the path of working to understand ourselves and each other.

The writer is the director for the Center for Studies in Jewish- Christian Relations at Yezreel Valley College in Afula. She can be contacted at