Prominent rabbi urges Pope to say Jews need not convert
May 11, 2009
The co-chairman of the Bilateral Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See is urging Pope Benedict to state publicly that Jews need not convert to Catholicism. Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, who addressed the Synod of Bishops last October, writes:
In the Second Vatican Council and the Nostra Aetate document, it was made clear that no efforts would be made by the Catholic Church to convert Jews. Rather, the Jewish people should continue the faith of its forefathers as expressed in the Bible and rabbinic literature. The Jewish people remain a people of God’s covenant, a people chosen by God to give the world the Bible. Put simply, the Catholic Church accepted the theological principle that Jews need not change their religion to merit redemption. I hope you will take the opportunity during your visit in Israel to reiterate this fact … I do hope now to get your help as a religious leader-- as well as the help of the entire free world-- to protect, defend and save Israel, the one and only sovereign state of the "People of the Book" from the hands of its enemies.
The text of Nostra Aetate (the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) does not appear to address the issue of Jewish conversion.
Sounding the depths of the mystery which is the Church, this sacred Council remembers the spiritual ties which link the people of the New Covenant to the stock of Abraham.
The Church of Christ acknowledges that in God’s plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarchs. Moses and the prophets. She professes that all Christ’s faithful, who as men of faith are sons of Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:7), are included in the same patriarch’s call and that the salvation of the Church is mystically prefigured in the exodus of God’s chosen people from the land of bondage On this account the Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament by way of that people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy established the ancient covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws nourishment from that good olive tree onto which the wild olive branches of the Gentiles have been grafted (cf. Rom. 11:17-24). The Church believes that Christ who is our peace has through his cross reconciled Jews and Gentiles and made them one in himself (cf. Eph. 2:14-16).
Likewise, the Church keeps ever before her mind the words of the apostle Paul about his kinsmen: "they are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race according to the flesh, is the Christ" (Rom. 9:4-5), the son of the virgin Mary. She is mindful, moreover, that the apostles, the pillars on which the Church stands, are of Jewish descent, as are many of those early disciples who proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to the world.
As holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize God’s moment when it came (cf. Lk. 19:42) Jews for the most part did not accept the Gospel; on the contrary, many opposed The spreading of it (cf. Rom. 11:28). Even so, The apostle Paul maintains that the Jews remain very dear to God. for the sake of the patriarchs since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made.2 Together with the prophets and that same apostle, the Church awaits the day, known to God alone, when all peoples will call on God with one voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3 :9 cf. Is. 66:23; Ps. 65:4; Rom. 11:11-32)
Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this sacred Council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation. This can be obtained, especially, by way of biblical and theological enquiry and through friendly discussions.
Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. John 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion. lt. is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.
Indeed the Church reproves every form of persecution against whomsoever it may be directed. Remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism Ieveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.
The Church always held and continues to hold that Christ out of infinite love freely underwent suffering and death because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation. It is the duty of the Church, therefore, in her preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s universal love and the source of all grace.
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- Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: An open message to the pope (Jerusalem Post)
- Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, 1965)
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