Relations between Jews and Christians have made remarkable strides even as traditionally good relations between Jews and Muslims have taken a downturn in recent decades.
“We’re at an extraordinary turning point in history in relations with Christians, particularly the Catholic church,” said Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter during a Dec. 18 program at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park.
Schacter, professor of Jewish thought and senior scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University, dated that turning point to the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The church released a document, “Nostra Aetate,” in which it cited its “bond” with Judaism, rejected violence against Jews, and, most significantly, rejected church teachings that the Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.
The new relationship would eventually pave the way for Pope John Paul II’s 1986 visit to a synagogue in Rome, the first ever by a pope to a Jewish house of worship.
The events were “literally unbelievable” and “earth shattering and cataclysmic,” said Schacter, who said the pope gave “an extraordinary speech, a warm speech, a respectful speech.”
Meanwhile, “something went wrong in the Muslim world.”
“Islam is an infinitely greater challenge,” said Schacter. “Islam is a burning issue. It is the largest and fastest-growing religion in the world. It is powerful and getting more powerful. It is extreme and getting more extreme.”
Most troubling, he said, is that “there seem to be no moderate counter voices” within Islam. He passed out sections of the Hamas charter that state, “There is no solution to the Palestinian question except through Jihad,” and the PLO charter calling the establishment of Israel “entirely illegal regardless of the passage of time.”
Schacter recalled the “classical Jewish-Muslim” connection, which linked both religions in their reverence for Abraham and other prophets, a reliance on both oral and written law, dietary restrictions, and other shared traditions.
“It was traditionally much better to be a Jew under Muslim rule than under Christianity,” Schacter said, citing such examples as Muslim Spain before the Inquisition and the welcome fleeing Sephardi Jews found in the Ottoman Empire.
Schacter’s talk was sponsored by the Orthodox Forum of Edison/Highland Park in conjunction with Ahavas Achim University.