Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Interfaith Relations

Catholic-Jewish Relations

Over the last half-century we have witnessed extraordinary progress in Catholic-Jewish relations. When Pope John XXIII convened Vatican II, he instituted a process intended to overcome the anti-Semitic teachings that were deeply rooted in Catholic sacred literature. This process led to the publication in 1965 of Nostra Aetate, which removed the office teaching that Jews are rejected by God and responsible for the murder of the son of God. This document was only the first step in a much broader process of reconciliation that would eventually lead to purging anti-Jewish elements from the church's liturgy and to repudiating those doctrines that had long promoted contempt among Catholics for Jews and Judaism.

The initiative of John XXIII was continued by many in the church, most notably John Paul II. Pope John Paul II was especially effective in keeping this effort a priority of the papacy, in a way that was both vigorous and daring.

On March 16, 1998, after eleven years of study, the Vatican released its long-awaited response to the Holocaust: We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, head of the Church's Commission, wrote the response for Religious Relations with the Jews. The statement is presented as a form of teshuva — repentance — for injustices inflicted upon Jews by Christians throughout history and, specifically, during the Holocaust. The Since the document's release numerous Catholic leaders, from France, Germany, Poland, Hungry, Holland, Switzerland, Lithuania, and America have made statements apologizing for the sins committed by officials or members of the Catholic Church.

As a political act, the Pope's visit to Israel was the culmination of his effort to build durable relations between Israel and the Vatican. In 1994, he extended full diplomatic recognition to Israel. His trip, the first official papal visit to Israel, is a historic Christian affirmation of the Jewish right to a sovereign homeland. Prime Minister Ehud Barak emphasized that affirmation as the most important aspect of the week's events. After the Vatican formally announced the Pope's plan to visit Israel, Rabbi Michael Signer, the co-chair of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs issued a statement welcoming this opportunity "to advance mutual understanding between the Catholic Church and the Jewish and Muslim communities."

Pope Benedict XVI has continued in Paul II's footsteps, by firmly denouncing all forms of anti-Semitism. Benedict XVI began his papacy with a number of addresses that supported a strong Christian-Jewish relationship and announced that “It is my intention to continue on [Paul II's] path.”

Reform Jews and the Southern Baptist Convention

Last year, during the High Holidays, the Southern Baptists released a prayer booklet requesting its members pray for Jews to find Jesus during the upcoming Days of Awe. In response to this, Rabbi Eric Yoffie stated, "We respect the right of Southern Baptists to hold beliefs that are different from our own. But we do not welcome a campaign that singles out the Jewish people for conversionary activities, and which suggests that Jews must relinquish their faith for Baptists to strengthen their own."

Reform Jews and Muslims

In August 1999, a group of Jews and Muslims in Southern California came together to form a dialogue in the hopes of creating better understanding between the two communities. The dialogue group is composed of clergy and laity from both religious traditions. Working together, the group developed a Code of Ethics in Muslim-Jewish Dialogue. Jewish and Muslim leaders showed support for improving Muslim-Jewish relations, by signing on to the document. The Code of Ethics was announced at a press conference on December 6, 1999.

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