True to the tone established 60 years ago when Seton Hall University in South Orange made its formal commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue, a Jan. 30 lecture tackled a topic central to the debate between the two religions.
Inaugurating a year-long celebration of that milestone, Peter Schäffer, Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton University, discussed father-son imagery in pre-Christian Jewish literature, contrasting those ideas with the concept of the “trinity.”
Though his tone was fastidiously academic, he made clear a conclusion that, in another era and another place, might have driven a wedge between Jews and Christians — that such terminology did not predict the coming of Jesus, as some theologians have argued.
It was another chapter in what Dr. Charles Carter, associate dean for academic affairs and planning of the Seton Hall College of Arts and Sciences, described as “the thousands of fraternal dialogues” initiated by Msgr. John Oesterreicher when he established the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at the university in March 1965.
Events throughout the anniversary year will highlight the institute’s Catholic-Jewish encounters over the decades. They will include public lectures, the 20th Annual Evening of Roses to benefit the Sister Rose Thering Fund, a film festival curated by Holocaust survivor and educator Luna Kaufman, an art exhibit, and an academic conference on Oesterreicher’s work.
A video made by television production students at Seton Hall outlined Oesterreicher’s life and work championing ecumenism and tolerance. The Moravian priest, who was born Jewish and converted to Catholicism when he was 20, risked his life to oppose the Nazi demonization of the Jews. He escaped the Gestapo in 1938 and made his way through Europe and eventually, in 1940, arrived in the United States.
Oesterreicher worked in parishes in New York City before being invited to join the staff of Seton Hall and become founding director of the institute. He also went on to become one of the architects of “Nostra Aetate,” the landmark 1965 declaration by the Second Vatican Council repudiating anti-Semitism. He died in 1993 at the age of 89.
The evening’s program opened with the presentation of a message from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Israel, to Seton Hall president Gabriel Esteban congratulating the university on “a wonderful celebration of building bridges.”
Also featured were a presentation on Judaism and world religions by Rabbi Alan Brill, associate professor of Jewish-Christian studies at the Institute, and a performance by the Seton Hall University Choir.