Amity reigned at the second day of a three-day interreligious conference at Seton Hall University, despite some disagreement among Jewish attendees over a papal emissary’s previous day’s remarks on the Vatican’s role during the Holocaust.
The 10th annual conference of the Council of Centers of Jewish-Christian Relations served as a debut of sorts for Cardinal Kurt Koch, marking his first visit to the New York area since being appointed the Vatican’s top envoy on Jewish relations in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Following a Sunday afternoon lecture, Koch addressed the beatification of Pope Pius XII and concerns by Jewish leaders, who insist his canonization is premature until the Vatican allows a full examination of its Nazi-era archives. When Koch suggested that there are Jews who support his canonization, it raised eyebrows among some listeners.
“In the context of an essentially positive set of first meetings with American Jewry, the cardinal’s comments on the Pius XII controversy were disconcerting,” wrote Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, in an e-mail Monday. “We repeat our belief that the full record in the Vatican archives of Pius’ papacy and activities during the Holocaust should be revealed as the necessary first step.”
Other attendees would later refute a subsequent story in the Jewish weekly The Forward, which reported a “palpable sense of frustration in the room” among Jewish and Catholic attendees (see sidebar).
But there was little mention of Koch’s remarks on Oct. 31 during two separate panel discussions on the changing ways Catholics and Jews relate to one another’s religious beliefs.
“Judaism and Christianity are of equal validity,” Michael Kogan, a professor of philosophy and religion at Montclair State University, told some 60 participants. “They both worship the same God. Christianity is Judaism’s outreach into the world. Judaism to me is a living relationship between a people and its God, or God and his people.… We are a chosen people of God, but if human beings can make more than one choice, it would be perfectly silly to say God can’t,” he said.
Rabbi Alan Brill, an organizer of the conference, spoke of the “spectrum of Jewish belief.”
“What do Jews believe?” asked Brill, the Cooperman-Ross Distinguished Professor Chair in Jewish-Christian Studies in Honor of Sister Rose Thering at Seton Hall. “We have a lot of separate meanings and moral orders. In any one congregation you may have 10 people with 10 different Jewish religions. You may have somebody who’s got a Judaism of AIPAC next to a Judaism of 12 steps next to a JewBu,” a Jew who embraces Buddhist practice.
Brill said he wrote his 2010 book, Judaism and Other Religions, written in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
“I want Jews to learn more about Christians and Christians to learn more about Jews. I am surprised when people in the dialogue don’t know the spectrum of Jewish belief — and Jews? Forget it. They can’t tell between a Catholic, a Lutheran, and a Methodist. These are important issues.”
“I don’t think you can discuss Judaism in its fullness today without bringing in Christianity,” said Kogan. “You can’t talk about Christianity and put the Christian-Jewish dialogue off in the corner.”
Asked whether Islam should be included as part of their interreligious dialogue, Kogan said, “When I talk to Muslims I talk in terms of the radical monotheism that we share and the idea that Halacha and Sharia are closely related sets of laws.”
But there are limits to the dialogue, he said.
“We cannot talk about a common text,” he said. “It is because Judaism and Christianity share a common text that…we have thousands of years of fruitful discussion before us.”
In a second discussion, Catholic educators addressed the future of a Christian theology of Judaism.
“I don’t believe that Christology” — the study of the belief that Jesus is the messiah — “has to result in anti-Semitism,” said Father John Pawlikowski, a Holocaust scholar and director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. “But historically it did, and I think the potential is quite grave for that to continue unless we adjust our Christology.
“Some Christology had the effect of making Jews second-class people.”
Philip Cunningham, director of the Jewish-Catholic Institute of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said a 2001 Pontifical Biblical Commission document may radically change the way Christians relate to Jews theologically.
The Vatican document, called “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” suggested that that the “Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain.”
“For us Christians, the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is among us,” said Cunningham. “That is a hugely important move. It doesn’t simply state, ‘The one who is to come will be Jesus’…which means both communities will converge in recognizing on the basis of different complementary traits that the coming one is the messiah. It think that is an enormously positive move forward,” he said.
“We are not imposing that Jews have got to believe in things about God we Christians do,” Cunningham added. “This enables a freedom for us Christians to learn from the Jewish experience of God.”