Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs, was disappointed at the Vatican’s failure to recognize the value of the Land of Israel to the Jews, even as it was attempting to heal very old wounds between the two religions.
Rabbi Rosen welcomed a new Vatican document on Catholic-Jewish relations, issued on the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate—the document stating that the Jews are no more responsible for the death of “that man” than are the Christians. The new document, “A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations,” was issued by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and approved by Pope Francis. It explores theological issues that have emerged since the issuing of Nostra Aetate in 1965, and calls on Catholics to fight anti-Semitism and to not try to convert Jews to Christianity.
In a historic first for the release of a Vatican document written for Catholic audiences, Rabbi Rosen and Dr. Edward Kessler of Cambridge University were invited to provide Jewish responses to the new document. They joined with Cardinal Kurt Koch, president, and Father Norbert Hoffman, secretary, of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in addressing the press conference.
“Nostra Aetate revolutionized Catholic teachings about Jews and Judaism,” said Rosen, adding, “The new ‘Reflection’ document clearly repudiates replacement or supersessionist theology; and expresses an increasing appreciation and respect for Jewish self-understanding, reflected in recognizing the place of Torah in the life of the Jewish people.”
However, Rosen expressed disappointment that the new document fails to acknowledge “the centrality that the Land of Israel plays in the historic and contemporary religious life of the Jewish people,” and the groundbreaking role of Nostra Aetate in leading to the diplomatic accord between the Vatican and the Jewish State.
“The establishment of full bilateral relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See — very much guided and promoted by Pope John Paul II — was one of the historic highlights on the road since Nostra Aetate, reflecting more than anything else the fact that the Catholic Church had truly repudiated its portrayal of the Jewish people as condemned wanderers to be homeless until the final advent,” said Rosen.
“Without Nostra Aetate, the establishment of these relations would surely not have been feasible,” Rosen added.
Rosen praised the document’s emphasis on the responsibility of educational institutions, particularly those that train priests to integrate into their curricula both Nostra Aetate and subsequent Vatican documents pertaining to Jews and Judaism. “This remains the most notable challenge in taking the achievements from their Olympian heights down to the grassroots universally,” he said.