Talking Catholic-Jewish relations, popes and holidays

Here’s hoping you had a good holiday.

Just before Holy Week and Passover, Archbishop Dolan and Arnold Eisen — chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary — had a conversation about Catholic-Jewish relations at the seminary in NYC.

Actually, Dolan spoke. Then the two religious leaders chatted.

According to Catholic New York and the Jewish Week, Dolan said that Catholic-Jewish relations were characterized for a long time by “grievances” but could now focus on a “a dialogue of mutuality,” which I believe means issues of mutual concern.

One issue that Jews and Catholics face, Dolan said, is “stopping the leakage of faithful.”

Dolan acknowledged Jewish support for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, who may have done more for Christian-Jewish relations than anyone. “I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership,” he said.

On the always emotional question of Pope Pius XII’s record of condemning the Holocaust, CNY reported that Dolan said this:

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“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”

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On the same question, Eisen said: “I’m going to leave it to the experts and activists on the Pope Pius XII matter. He [Archbishop Dolan] said he wants to start without preconceptions and with openness. I welcome the initiative.”

On the possibility that Pius could be beatified before the historical record is clear, Eisen said: “I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment if that turns out to be the case. I understand the Church is also moving ahead with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and people will welcome that.”

CNY also reported this exchange:

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During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

Archbishop Dolan, JTS’s Eisen to talk Catholic-Jewish stuff

Archbishop Dolan will share the stage with a prominent Jewish leader next month to speak about an always interesting subject (and one that’s surprisingly sensitive at the moment): the state of Catholic-Jewish relations.

He’ll discuss the subject with Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, on Nov. 5. The occasion will be the seventeenth annual Nostra Aetate Dialogue at Fordham U.

tjndc5-5qxce77ojdg11ntdqa9f_layoutThe event will take place at the McNally Amphitheatre at Fordham University Law School, 140 West 62nd Street.

Edward Bristow, professor of History at Fordham University, will moderate.

Catholic-Jewish relations have generally been bright in recent years, improving by the decade since Vatican II. But there has been some…strain…the past few years.

Mel Gibson’s movie made a lot of people uncomfortable a while back.

Then Pope B16 urged wider use of the Latin Mass, raising concerns about a once-a-year Good Friday prayer urging conversion of the Jews.

Early this year, B16 lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who happened to be a Holocaust-denier.

tjndc5-5bqpzs3t3fts6xgf2g9_layoutAnd most recently, Jewish leaders have been peeved about a legalistic statement from the Catholic bishops of the U.S. that said that even though the Catholic Church recognizes the covenant between God and the Jewish people, Catholics must affirm their belief that Jesus Christ “fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham.”

The statement includes:

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With St. Paul, we acknowledge that God does not regret, repent of, or change his mind about the “gifts and the call” that he has given to the Jewish people (Rom 11:29). At the same time, we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation.

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When one considers the near-miraculous improvements in Catholic-Jewish relations over the past 40 years — and we’re talking about a deep and meaningful relationship — one could make the case that the events of recent years are minor and somewhat inevitable, given the real differences between the religions.

Still, it will be quite interesting to see how Dolan and Eisen, two personable and articulate men, frame these issues and concerns.

Eisen (that’s him, below), who came to JTS in 2007, has expressed a great interest in interreligious work. This is a good opportunity for him to make a significant contribution on issues of interest to many people.

Archbishops of New York are remembered, in part, by how well they get along with New York’s large and influential Jewish community. Cardinal O’Connor, of course, was the Archbishop of Catholic-Jewish Relations, beloved by New York’s Jewish community.

Cardinal Egan got along well with the JC, but he was more reticent (as he was with all things).

Dolan got rave reviews from Milwaukee’s Jewish community, and got off to a good start here, as well.

You have to figure that when he gets to Fordham, he’ll be well-versed on the issues and concerns out there and ready to soothe them.

Leadership of Conservative Judaism continues to change

Much has been written in recent years (including by me) about the challenges facing Conservative Judaism — the “moderate” Jewish movement that seeks to reconcile tradition with the modern world.

It’s no easy task in an increasingly partisan culture, where most religious groups are identified as being with the right or left.

The incoming leader of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, an organization that represents Conservative synagogues, has a lot of work to do.

“I wanted this job because I think we are at a critical moment in the life of the movement and because the synagogue is the locus of Jewish life in the United States,” Rabbi Steven Wernick told the Jewish Week.

He’ll soon by taking over for Rabbi Jerome Epstein of New Rochelle, who has led the USCJ for 23 years.

This is a real period of change for the leadership of Conservative Judaism.

In 2007, Arnold Eisen took over as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the intellectual center of the Conservative movement. He replaced the long-serving Rabbi Ismar Schorsch.

And in a few months, Rabbi Joel Meyers of White Plains is retiring after two decades as executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis. He’ll be replaced by another White Plains-based rabbi, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld.

I hope to write something about Schonfeld before she takes over this summer.