IS THE DAY OF JUDAISM NECESSARY?
Fr. WALDEMAR CHROSTOWSKI
When in January 1998 the Catholic Church in Poland initiated the celebrations of the Day of Judaism, it was an unprecedented initiative. It was known by only a few dioceses on the area of Italy and Austria where it did not have a nationwide range. Anyway it has been so till today. After 15 years it is worth and needs doing a kind of a balance and remind about the roots from which the tradition grew out which has become strong in Poland.
Studying the mystery of the Church
The Day of Judaism has grown out from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and teaching of John Paul II. In point 4, concerning the Jews and Judaism, the declaration of the Vatican council ‘Nostra aetate’ emphasizes: ‘Studying the mystery of the Church, the present Holy Vatican remembers about the relation which people of the New Testament is combined spiritually with the tribe of Abraham’. The most important elements of this relation are consideration of the beginning of faith and election, reaching back to patriarchs Abraham, Isaak and Jacob and long-aged history of Israel, ‘with which God in his profound mercifulness, decided to conclude the Old Covenant, received the revelation of the Old Testament and is fed with the roots of a good olive tree into which olive branches of nations were implanted (see Rom 11. 17-24). The initiative of the Day of Judaism was planned mainly as an opportunity to deepen the consciousness of the Christians about their pre-beginnings, which preceded the arrival of God’s Son to the world and also about the most important conditions which decisively influenced His life, activity, teaching and fate sealed with his death on the cross and resurrection.
So, it is all about reflection which is specifically theological, undertaken on the ground of faith in the only God. In its context, one can easily see the necessity of precise distinction between biblical Israel, whose history was presented on the pages of both parts (!) of the Sacred Scripture and post-biblical Israel, whose faith and religiousness took a form of rabbinic Judaism, that is, defined by successive generations of Rabbis, or the Talmud Judaism, that is, defined in a group of rabbinic laws and solutions known as Talmud, and in fact two Talmuds - the Palestinian and Babylonian ones. On the border of biblical and post-biblical Judaism a decisive split appeared: some Jews said their ‘yes’ to Jesus – on this ground Christianity was born, whereas other Jews said their ‘no’ to Jesus – on this ground rabbinic Judaism appeared. What happened earlier, at the times of the Old Testament is common to us, but the paradox is that instead of uniting us, it divides us. Roads of the Synagogue and the Church diverged so much that for nearly two thousand years both communities effectively cooperated in mutual departure from each other. John Paul II used to appeal for breaking this state of things many times, especially his words pronounced on 13 April 1986 in the roman synagogue are very significant: ‘Jewish religion is not ‘outer’ for our religion, but somehow ‘inner’. So we have relations with it which we do not with any other religion. You are our beloved brothers and SOMEHOW it can be said, our older brothers’.
The purpose of the Day of Judaism is reflection on the sense and consequences of the papal words. On the one hand it should aim at better knowledge of the genesis and nature of rabbinic Judaism, not identifying it with the religion of the Old Testament, because this identifying - about which the believers of Judaism know very well – is false. On the other hand the Day of Judaism in the Catholic Church should help to deepen consciousness, who Jesus Christ really is and what the Christianity is. Both religions – Judaism and Christianity – in their relation to the Old Testament are featured by three basic aspects: continuity, lack of continuity and the fundamental novelty. The essence of this novelty is Jesus Christ and ‘yes’ or ‘no’ said towards His person and teaching. This answer is connected with the picture of God. God is the only one for believers of both religions, but the Christians, basing on the embodiment of God’s Son, express the richness of inner life of God as Father and Son and the Holy Spirit.
Ecumenical context of the dialogue with Judaism
In discussions during meetings of the Polish Episcopal Committee for Dialogue with Judaism which were preceded by the initiative of the Day of Judaism, were marked by two options. One of them postulated deciding about annual celebrations on 13 April – on the anniversary of the historical visit of John Paul II in the Roman synagogue, whereas another one proposed celebrations of this Day on the eve having a long and beautiful tradition of the Week of Prayers for the Unity of Christians (18-25 January). Within the repeated discussions the second option prevailed. It was prolonged by the later- realized initiative of the Day of Islam in the Catholic Church in Poland, introduced just after the end of the Ecumenical Week.
In this connection the religious and theological perspective found their expression. Dialogue with Judaism and also dialogue with Islam in a different way, is essential for the identity of Christians of various beliefs. Divisions within Christianity, calling for restoring lost unity, can be effectively overcome on the ground of reference to common roots and common return to the essence of the message of Jesus Christ. Considering Christ allows for getting to know everything better, which unites us, Christians, together, from faith and religiousness of those who refused and still refuse – to accept the Messiah dignity of Jesus. However, it is also something for us – Christians and believers of Judaism – maybe it should unite, mainly faith in one God and recognizing His sacred will expressed in Decalogue. Where there are still serious doctrinal differences, what unites us, should be morality rooted in Divine Revelation on which it can be based and with which the common testimony can be fed, which is given to God in the contemporary world, often distanced from or even hostile to God.
The Day of Judaism fulfills its role not only when during annual celebrations fundamental messages will be maintained and developed, being the subsoil of this initiative. The biggest danger is replacing theological reflection based on the New Testament and long-aged Tradition of the Church with events of only cultural character (Klezmer music, evenings of Jewish song), social character (appeals ‘against racism, intolerance and anti-Semitism) or political character (meetings with diplomats and expressing support for policy conducted by Israel). Nothing will replace a prayer if we are not able to pray together, then we must realize how deep these precipices are which separate us. The strategy expressed in annual meetings of small groups of the same people does not help credibility of the Day of Judaism, without good care about sensitivity and feeling of millions of believers who – mostly without their guilt – do not have suitable knowledge about what it is all about. We mustn’t stop ‘convincing the convinced’ but we must repeat the patient and hard pastoral effort, which is fed with – which should be seen in the Year of Faith – deep strong faith in God and His life-giving presence in the world.