However, exclusive attention to this dimension obscures the larger forces transforming the moral and intellectual landscape of the 1960s. The egalitarian impulse that produced the civil rights movement in the United States and de-colonization worldwide did not sit well with traditions of religious exclusivism and triumphalism, let alone the condemnation of the other to discrimination and damnation.
There have been commemorations celebrating the 50th anniversary of the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions” titled “Nostra Aetate,” whose fourth section deals with Judaism and marks a genuinely significant moment.
Jewish reactions were for the most part highly favourable, though various objections were raised that strike me as expressions of hypersensitivity. Thus, the document should have “condemned” anti-Semitism rather than merely “decrying” it; the final version should have retained the term “deicide” in characterizing the offence for which the Jews bear no guilt.
The declaration was seen as too little, too late, and the notion that Jews were being exonerated for crucifying Jesus was seen as at least marginally insulting. Thus, some Jews whose long-standing bill of particulars against the Church featured the guilt that it assigned to the Jewish people for the Crucifixion nonetheless dismissed the historic revocation of this theology as an event that should have no consequences for their own resentful stance.
To implement the new relationship, the Church established a Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, which issued its first official document (“Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No.4)”) in 1974. In 1985, it issued “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church.” And in 1998, it issued a document on the Holocaust titled “We Remember.” Despite occasional formulations that some Jews, rightly or wrongly, found inadequate or objectionable, these documents fleshed out “Nostra Aetate” in a direction that reflected advances achieved by ongoing dialogues and even dealt with some of the specific concerns that Jews had expressed regarding the original declaration.
In “Nostra Aetate” itself, and much more so in subsequent Church documents and papal utterances, the abiding value of Judaism has been affirmed and even emphasized. In theological language, the covenant between God and the original Israel remains in effect. What precisely that covenant is—the Abrahamic and/or the Mosaic—is not quite settled, and some Jews have virtually demanded that Christians declare that the Mosaic covenant remains in full force. I have argued that this demand is unwise. It raises intractable questions about the parameters of the Jewish need to observe that covenant and constitutes a telling example of the inappropriate dictation to others of what their own religion must teach.
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