Jewish Leaders Welcome New Vatican Document on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Jewish leaders celebrated a new Vatican document discussing Catholic-Jewish relations, in light of the 50th anniversary of the Holy See’s adoption of the Nostra Aetate.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue in New York called the document a “significant milestone in Catholic-Jewish relations.”
Schneier — who received a rare papal knighthood in 2014 for his work on religious freedom and international peace — told The Algemeiner the new text continued in the tradition of Pope Paul VI, who oversaw the adoption of the Nostra Aetate in 1965 absolving the Jewish people for the murder of Christ, and which was later upheld by John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis.
“This in a way is a conclusion of years of relations that have evolved trying to improve the cooperation between Jews and Catholics,” said Schneier. “I feel that this reaffirms the ner tamid [eternal flame] in the synagogue,” he said, noting the significance of the document’s release on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
The theological text discusses issues that have arisen since Nostra Aetate. Among its core messages is a call on Catholics not to attempt converting Jews, and a rejection of supersessionism, or the Christian belief that the church supplanted the Mosaic covenant, thereby making the continued practice of Judaism a form of dissent.
The text notes that passages in the New Testament have “no intention of proving the promises of the Old Covenant to be false, but on the contrary treats them as valid.”
The document — the first released by the Pontifical Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews since 1998 — was presented at a press conference in the Vatican on Thursday by Cardinal Kurt Koch, Father Norbert Hofmann of the Vatican Commission, together with Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and Dr. Ed Kessler, the founding director of the Cambridge Woolf Institute.
Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, Anti-Defamation League director of Interfaith Affairs, called the theological pronouncement a “rich document that requires careful study.” He said it demonstrated a “remarkable process of reconfiguring the Church’s relationship with Judaism that began with the Nosrta Aetate.”
“The notion that the Catholic Church considers its relationship with the Jewish people to be unique and essential to its own existence and self-understanding is a powerful testimony that a torturous history can be overcome when both our common humanity and differences are seen as sources of blessing,” he said.
While welcoming the document, Rosen, who spoke to reporters at the Vatican press conference, released a statement on Thursday expressing disappointment with its failure to mention “the centrality that the Land of Israel plays in the historic and contemporary religious life of the Jewish people.”
Rosen and Schneier both stressed the importance of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel, which may not have been possible without the adoption of the Nostra Aetate.
Relations between the Vatican and Israel are overwhelmingly warm, despite some small issues. Earlier this year, the Holy See angered Israeli officials when it wrote “State of Palestine” in place of the Palestinian Authority on an official document, and Pope Francis offered up prayers at the Israeli security barrier between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, during his inaugural visit to the Middle East as pontiff.
Additionally, the Vatican has delayed the canonization of Pope Pius XII amid complaints of the Vatican’s neutral role during the Holocaust.