Beliefnet
Reprinted with permission from MyJewishLearning.

The latter half of the 20th century saw a wholesale re-evaluation of the Christian attitude toward Jews and Judaism, revolutionizing relations between the two religions. Brought on by the horrors of the Holocaust and the embrace of pluralism and diversity as positive values, Christian theologians have repudiated or reinterpreted age-old beliefs that led to anti-Jewish violence throughout the centuries.

While differences between the two faith communities still exist, for the first time in history Jews today have a reasonable expectation that these differences will be addressed through interfaith dialogue rather than the violence of the past.

The state of Jewish-Christian relations varies from group to group, but some general trends do emerge from examining the ways that Jews and Christians interact today:

The Holocaust profoundly affected the ways that Christians from across the theological spectrum think about and interact with Jews. After World War II, Christians were forced to confront their religion's role in helping make possible the demonization of Jews to such a great degree that slaughtering Jews en-masse could take place. Anti-Jewish theology, which had for two millennia pervaded Christian thought, has been largely eliminated, such as the belief that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus (known as deicide). In addition, the role of Christian rescuers--people whose faith led them to risk their lives by hiding or otherwise saving Jews--provides a meaningful link between Jews and Christians. However, the role of Christians and Christianity in perpetuating the Holocaust remains a point of contention between the two religions.

Israel--specifically, different Christian groups' stances toward the Jewish state and its policies--is a major factor in interfaith relations. This is straining old friendships between Jews and liberal Christians while drawing Jews closer to conservative Christians with whom they have historically been at odds.

As Jews and Christians intermarry with increasing frequency, especially in the United States, families are becoming more familiar with the religions to which their relatives adhere. Although intermarriage produces tensions and conflicts, anecdotal evidence suggests it also produces learning opportunities: When Christians join Jewish families, they get to know Jewish people and Judaism in a more personal way that often helps shatter stereotypes or anti-Jewish feelings they may have had. Jews, of course, have the same experience vis-à-vis their new Christian families.

Christians in recent years have become increasingly interested in exploring the life of Jesus, which has led many Christians to a more profound and heartfelt respect for the religion of Jesus, Judaism. Learning about Jesus, for many Christians, inherently involves learning about Judaism, for Jesus was a practicing Jew. Christian theologians today tend to emphasize the close relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The centuries-old belief in supercessionism--that Christianity superceded, or replaced, Judaism--has been rejected by theologians from across the Christian spectrum.

Jews, for their part, have not ignored the changes in Christianity. In 2000, a transdenominational group of Jewish rabbinic and academic leaders issued a statement called Dabru Emet, "Speak the Truth." In it, they acknowledged the efforts of Christians to improve interfaith relations and called on Jews to learn about and likewise affirm the positive changes. The statement listed eight points on which Jews and Christians could base dialogue, including "Jews and Christians worship the same God," and "a new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice." Tellingly, though, it was a statement about the Holocaust that generated the most controversy from the Jewish community: "Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon."

Catholicism
Among the many changes instituted in Catholicism as part of the monumental Second Vatican Council in the 1960s was the declaration Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), which formally rejects the charge of deicide, "decries hatred, persecution, displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time and by any one," and calls for "mutual respect and knowledge" between Catholics and Jews.

It was, however, John Paul II's papacy that redefined the relationship between Catholics and Jews. John Paul II (who was elected pontiff in 1978) became the first pope since ancient times to visit a synagogue; established diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel; visited Israel in 2000; and issued a sweeping apology for past Church "sins." He has spoken often of the kinship he sees between the two religions, saying that without Judaism, Christianity could not have come into being.

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