Just over 50 years after the publication of a major sea-change in the attitude of the Catholic Church to the Jews, the Jewish world has published a response to mark the anniversary, which was presented to the Pope in a special ceremony at the Vatican last week.

And in “Between Jerusalem and Rome”, rabbis representing three Orthodox organisations have called for other Christian denominations to follow the Catholic example, which was set out in the groundbreaking “Nostra Aetate” [Our Time] published by the Second Vatican Council at the end of 1965.

Nostra Aetate set out a series of guidelines for the Catholic Church to follow in its dealings with the Jewish world, renouncing anti-Semitism and ultimately paving the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel and a series of papal visits to the Jewish state.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Council of America, one of the three rabbinical bodies behind the response — the others are the Conference of European Rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel — told the Jewish News: “At the beginning of the process of Nostra Aetate, there was concern about the sincerity of the Church and what its agenda was, whether it was a way of missionising, not through the sword but through kindness.

“But as the years have gone by it became clear that the Church, and the successive popes who have implemented Nostra Aetate, was indeed sincere. Today, one of our biggest challenges is going to be implementing the attitude of Nostra Aetate in churches throughout the world, particularly in places where the Catholic Church is growing, such as South America and Africa, but where there is little or no Jewish community.”

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt signing the declaration.

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt signing the declaration.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Dratch said, the rabbis hoped that the cordial relationship which he believed now existed between the two faiths “would serve as a model for relations with other faith groups”.

The new document calls upon the Church to join us (the Rabbinate) in deepening our combat against our generation’s new barbarism, namely the radical offshoots of Islam, which endanger our global society and does not spare the very numerous moderate Muslims. It threatens world peace in general and the Christian and Jewish communities in particular. We call on all people of good will to join forces to fight this evil.”

Following the presentation of Between Jerusalem and Rome to the pope, Moscow’s Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who leads the Conference of European Rabbis, said: “This is an historic moment for relations between our two faiths, Nostra Aetate set the tone for the last 50 years and we hope that our response will set a similar precedent in the future. The time when our two faiths were at war is over! There are many issues we can work together on and I hope that we will be able to use this as a catalyst for greater collaboration.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt with Pope Francis ©L'Osservatore Romano-S.F.V

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt with Pope Francis
©L’Osservatore Romano-S.F.V

Pope Francis, welcoming the rabbinical delegation warmly, said: “In our shared journey, by the graciousness of the Most High, we are presently experiencing a fruitful moment of dialogue. This is reflected in the statement …which you present to me today”

Nostra Aetate represented the “Magna Carta of the Church’s dialogue with the Jewish world,” declared the pope, and said that relations between the faiths had become “ increasingly friendly and fraternal. … In recent decades, we have been able to draw closer to one another and to engage in an effective and fruitful dialogue. We have grown in mutual understanding and deepened our bonds of friendship”.

But the pope also noted that the rabbinic response did “not hide the theological differences that exist between our faith traditions”. He made it clear that he accepted the “firm resolve” of the rabbis “to collaborate more closely, now and in the future”, and noted approvingly “the affirmation that religions must use moral behaviour and religious education — not war, coercion or social pressure — to influence and inspire”.