Is there something wrong with Judaism today?
Analysis – Please find attached an article in which a Rabbi and a Jesuit – both professors at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome – come together to discuss and analyze the growing anti-Christian feelings among certain radical Jewish circles. The publication of this text coincides precisely with the discovery of new anti-Christian graffiti on the walls of Notre Dame Center, in Jerusalem.
The new year, be it secular or religious, is always a time for introspection, a moment to look at the future, a time to think about the past. Over the last year, but yet barely reported in the media, a worrying number of Christian sites in Israel have been vandalized by groups of radical Jews. Sadly 2013 has seen a real increase in such “tagging” practices, often against Muslim communities but more lately against Christianity and Christians as well. Some of the less graphic messages such as “we will crucify you,” “Jesus is dead” and “death to Christianity” have appeared on walls of Christian sites in Israel. To take the measure of the magnitude of these acts, a list is now easily accessible on Wikipedia under the heading of “List of Israeli price tag attacks”. Only a few weeks ago, Haredi men and families spit upon an acquaintance of us wearing a distinguishable cassock, six times in a row, between the Jaffa Gate and the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem. Hatred never stops with taggings on walls and bricks! Far from being isolated cases, these are recurrent experiences in the Christian community and cannot be ignored.
For those of us following the state of Jewish-Christian relations, these recent attacks come as no surprise. Over the last few years, a string of similar events and derogatory attitudes against Christians and Christianity have become increasingly common and are becoming part of the landscape of some Jewish circles in the country. To any student of history, such words and attitudes will no doubt bring back to mind the darkest periods of European anti-Semitism when Jews were the targets of Christian anti-Jewish feelings. There and then, it was Jews and Synagogues that were the object of mockery, hatred, and physical violence. So, is History being turn up side down right in front of our eyes?
To believe that these episodes of anti-Christianism are the results of lonely, isolated, unstable individuals, Jews from the fringes of society, or only politically motivated, would be an error. While there is no doubt the individuals involved are not speaking for the majority and are very likely disturbed, the absence of any strong, deep and enduring reactions to such attacks by Jewish religious and community leaders in Israel is highly disturbing. Apart from some individual courageous gesture of support and compassion as well as official words of condemnation emanating from both the political and religious Jewish spectrums, Judaism as a whole seems to retract behind an embarrassed silence. Would it not be wiser and more courageous to see it as a “guilty silence” that tells us that something is definitely wrong with some aspects of our society, in Israel and elsewhere, that would require urgent attention and mending?
More then sixty years ago, a French Jewish thinker, Jules Isaac, dared to bring to the gates of Rome a prophetic vision. He told Pope Pius XII and after him John XXIII, who became a close friend of him, of the urgent necessity to improve Jewish-Christian relationships. Isaac challenged the heart of centuries old Christian teachings by requesting to overturn the “teaching of contempt” by the “teaching of respect”. The move was bold but eventually paved the way the to the Second Vatican council and the Nostra Aetate Declaration.
While the tensions between the Church and Judaism have not all been totally appeased and constant efforts and vigilance always needed, it seems today that a reverse challenge has suddenly become a priority of our time. Judaism too must face its own devils and seriously engage in an overturn of its “teachings of contempt” towards Christianity to “teachings of respect” lest the acts of anti-Christianism we are witnessing these days might well become the trademark of some Jewish religious circles.
In an early Midrashic work, (Eikhah Rabbah II, 13) a daring statement is made in the names of Rabbi Huna and Rabbi Yossi: ”If they tell you there is wisdom among the nations of the world, believe them. If they tell you there is Torah among these nations, don’t believe them”. The sages of old had the intelligence and the courage to know that while Torah is indeed a specificity of Israel, Judaism does not have the monopoly on wisdom. The Midrash teaches us that there are wisdoms that Judaism by itself does not posses and that can only be found in the cultures, traditions and religions of the nations of the world. Should we not be reminded that Moses became all the more wiser through the social insights and wisdom from his father-in-law, Jethro the Madianite?
True respect towards the “other” not only requires tolerance and decency but most importantly requires us to acknowledge that the “other” is the carrier of a wisdom one cannot access by himself or herself alone. Thus, if Judaism today wants to truly engage in the challenge of overturning its “teachings of contempt” into “teaching of respect”, as the Church started to do and is still doing with all the challenges ahead and at time setbacks and even failures that must be faced with lucidity, honesty and humility, it urgently needs to engage in a real and new type of dialogue with Christianity. A dialogue that will not be satisfied by articles like this alone or lone figures taking a stand and expressing friendship but that will make Jewish leaders and rabbis search for true and indispensable wisdom in the traditions and teachings of the Church, just as the Christian churches are now committed to learn wisdom from biblical and rabbinic Judaism.
Rabbi David Meyer, Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome
Fr Jean-Pierre Sonnet (sj), Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome