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Andreas R. Batlogg SJ {*}

Day of Judaism

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 1/2011, P. 1 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

Sometimes, the Austrians are ahead of the Germans. Since the year 2000 between Lake Constance and Lake Neusiedl on January 17, exactly one day before the start of the worldwide Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians (18 to 25 January) the "Day of Judaism" is celebrated. As it says in a liturgical guideline, for the sake of the "repentant remembrance of the centuries-long history of prejudice and hostility between Christians and Jews and the development and deepening of the religious Christian-Jewish dialogue." The initiative goes back to the Second Ecumenical Assembly in Graz (1997). This in turn had picked up a long-term practice of the ecumenical dialogue group "Teshuvà" in Milan.

The date, January 17, is no coincidence but a deliberate choice. It points to the common biblical and theological foundation, namely the rootedness in Judaism - previous to the denominational diversity of Christian churches. According to an information on the homepage of the Vienna Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, "it is not about organizing a celebration with folkloric Jewish elements, and not about getting to know Judaism. ... It is about a fundamentally new self-conception of the churches, which feeds off its Jewish source. Accordingly, on the day of Judaism we want to make a positive commitment to the roots of our faith by means of our own traditions."

This commemoration day thus becomes nevertheless a "Day of Teaching and Learning", because it serves to raise awareness. Christians thank God for being allowed to participate through Jesus Christ in the promises given to the chosen people Israel. It should be recalled that on 13 April 1986 a historic visit took place. As the first pope in history ever John Paul II visited the Great Synagogue in Rome and paid tribute to the Jews as "our preferred" and "older brothers." 24 years later, on January 17, 2010, Benedict XVI, who had previously visited the synagogues in Cologne and New York, said at the same place, "Our closeness and spiritual fraternity find in the Holy Bible in Hebrew Sifre Qodesh or "Book of Holiness" their most stable and lasting foundation, which constantly reminds us of our common roots, our history and the rich spiritual patrimony that we share."

That heritage obliges. As a council theologian the present Pope witnessed the adventurous as well as conflict-ridden genesis of paragraph 4 of the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions "Nostra Aetate", which was originally planned as an independent "Declaration on Judaism" [Judendekret].

 


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During his tenure as president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (and as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), the document "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible" was published in 2001. In the context of efforts to "purify the memory" at the end of the 20th century, especially in view of the Shoah and the responsibility of Christians and of the church in the centuries-long history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, it is in line with the Vatican document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah" (1998), and with Pope John Paul II's plea for forgiveness of the guilt of Christians toward Jews on 12 March 2000.

The shadows of the past weigh heavily on Jews and Christians. Gestures such as these visits are important. On such occasions, emotions are inevitable. What does this mean for the present time?

Jews belong to Germany. For the first time since the war ended, in 2009 two Orthodox rabbis were ordained, and in early November 2010, for the first time in 75 years, a woman belonging to Reform Judaism, the 31 year old Ukrainian Alina Treiger was ordained rabbi. There are new synagogues in Berlin, Pforzheim, and Munich. But the inauguration of the main synagogue "Ohel Jacob" in Munich in November 2006 could only take place under police protection. And in November 2010 the new Jewish community center in Mainz was target of an arson attack. Has anti-Semitism again reached the "center of society" and become "socially acceptable", as it says within the context of heated debates on integration?

Christians have here a special responsibility. It begins with thought and speech, what follows are the doings. For the Judeo-Christian relationship is not only a theological minefield. What does the "never terminated covenant" mean? Two ways of salvation? It is and will remain a hyper-sensitive matter, as irritations show which are also connected with the current pontificate. In Italy for instance the Jews canceled their participation in the joint commemoration in 2009. The reason for this was the controversy about a Good Friday intercession that the pope had personally redrafted for the extraordinary rite [Tridentine] version.

In Germany on January 27 the (state-organized) "Holocaust Memorial Day" is celebrated in commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Holocaust does not come under the statute of limitations. "And the fear of those who survived it does not disappear simply because the fight against anti-Semitism has become raison d'etat in Germany," wrote Heribert Prantl on the occasion of the inauguration of the synagogue in Munich. At that time, Salomon Korn, Vice President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, described synagogues as "confidence in Germany, hewn in stone." This confidence has to be practiced and cultivated. A churchly "Day of Judaism" can help here. This day of remembrance exists also in Italy ("Giornata dell'ebraismo "), in Poland and the Netherlands ("De Dag von het Jodentum"). Why not in Germany?

 

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