Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

When It Comes To Changes In Catholic Teachings, Rabbi Says Jews Can't Take "Yes" For An Answer

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 2000

While the Roman Catholic Church has, in recent years, called for a change in its relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people and made dramatic strides in this direction, the organized Jewish community has been less than receptive, argues Harold M. Schulweis, rabbi of Temple Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California.  

Writing in Reform Judaism (Fall 2000) Rabbi Schulweis declares: "Jews can't take `Yes' for an answer. This quip, attributed to the Israeli statesman Abba Eban, is usually met with a smile of recognition. But what stands in the way of an affirmative acceptance of good news? Why such a reluctance bordering on negativity toward the outstretched hand? I have in mind the reluctant reaction of many Jewish leaders and organizations to the bold efforts of the Catholic Church, which, for two and a half decades and particularly under the reign of Pope John Paul II, has called for a reconstruction of the Church's relationship to Judaism and to the Jewish people."  

Rabbi Schulweis points out that, "The traditional `displacement theology' of the Church that viewed Christianity as a faith that supersedes Judaism has been replaced with a positive appreciation of the relevance and vitality of Judaism. Its adherents are addressed by the Pope as `our dearly beloved brothers.' indeed `our elder brothers.'"  

Yet, Schulweis notes, "The multiple calls by the Vatican for the `sinful sons and daughters of the Church' to purify their hearts in repentance of past errors and infidelities so as to `help heal the wounds of past Injustices' have met with tepid and even negative response by much of the organized Jewish community. No less a strong advocate of Jewish-Catholic rapprochement than Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the head of the pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With The Jews...finds that the Jewish reaction is `often so negative that some (in the Church) now hesitate to do anything at all for fear of making the situation worse."  

Cardinal Cassidy states: "We expect and hope that the Jewish partners will at least show us respect. You can hardly claim to respect someone if at every possible opportunity you are ready to criticize the person, even without making a real effort to understand and appreciate the position of the other person."  

In Schulweis' view, "This is a charge more serious than not being able to take `yes' for an answer. We are facing a threat to Catholic-Jewish relations and repairing the breach will require our earnest attention and moral statesmanship... The core belief of the Jewish faith community is rooted in the transformative power of t`shuvah, prayer, and acts of goodness. The capacity to change lies at the heart of our High Holiday prayers. Based on the belief in the possibilities of change within, between and among God's children, the practice of t'shuvah is the marrow of our faith."  

While some Jews find recent Church statements concerning the Holocaust disappointing and incomplete and some are unhappy with the Church's choices for canonization, Rabbi Schulweis concludes that, "The resolve to create a sustained, positive relationship between two faith communities, the willingness to engage in authentic dialogue on our long and complex history, all this must be welcomed as an ongoing process—not dismissed because of one or another declaration or Church decision we do not like. The Pope's call to his followers for an `examination of conscience" calls for patience, encouragement, and more statesmanship on our part. It is nothing less than heroic for any faith group to examine its darker side...It is not easy to ask forgiveness; nor is it easy to accept forgiveness. Our tradition counsels: `It is forbidden to be obdurate and not to allow yourselves to be appeased' (Maimonides, The Law Of Repentance, 2:3). A theological revolution has taken place before our eyes, and we must not lose the opportunity to seize hold of the new promise."

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.