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Fighting Together against Antisemitism and Anti-Judaism Will Be the Touchstone of All Real Brotherhood

 

Unofficial translation of an essay appearing on the website of DAVAR (Dialogue et étude entre croyants juifs et chrétiens). It analyzes a statement by the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of France, entitled Fighting Together against Antisemitism and Anti-Judaism Will Be the Touchstone of All Real Brotherhood. The French original may be found HERE.

 

On February 1, the Permanent Council of the Bishops’ Conference of France received at the premises of the CEF [Bishops’ Conference of France] the Chief Rabbi Haïm Korsia, and the President of CRIF [the Council of Representatives of Jewish Institutions of France] Mr. Francis Kalifat, for a working session that would result in the solemn signing and issuance of a declaration of commitment by the French episcopate to fight against antisemitism and anti-Judaism.

This text is part of a long line of documents on the relations between Christianity and Judaism initiated, for the Catholic Church, by 1965 conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, §4 – a line whose common thread is the quotation: “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29) – this text’s only scriptural quotation. It is therefore interesting to see how this [new] declaration is in continuity with and marks an original and new milestone on this long road of trust that is established, of brotherhood that is found, one built after all the vicissitudes and dramas of history.

In the first place, it should be noted that the text is entitled: “Fighting Together against Antisemitism and Anti-Judaism Will Be the Touchstone of All Real Brotherhood.” The mention of antisemitism and anti-Judaism together is important.

Indeed, these two scourges are linked. We can rightly debate this and study the relationship between these two attitudes toward the Jewish people, their history, and their tradition. The problem could be summed up by contrasting these two stances.

On the one hand, Jules Isaac highlighted a direct causality, who – to explain the tragedy of the Shoah – clearly showed how “the teaching of contempt” had produced a rejection, an indifference: “consciences were often found asleep,”1 and at worst, an attitude of hostility towards the Jews within the Christian tradition itself. Of course, history invites us not to limit the origin of antisemitism to Christian anti-Judaism. But on the other hand, the answer remains very evasive when the question is rightly asked, as in the statement "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah" (March 16, 1998): “However, it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts. Did anti-Jewish sentiment among Christians make them less sensitive, or even indifferent, to the persecution launched against the Jews by National Socialism when it attained power?”2

The text of Nostra Aetate, §4 was very explicit and clear in severing the roots of the development of anti-Judaism. But we remember that its sentence on antisemitism had deeply disappointed the Jewish community, not just that sentence by the way, since the text simply said: “Furthermore … the Church, mindful of the heritage it shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's love, decries hatred, persecutions, and all manifestations of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”3 The expressions “deplore” and “by Gospel love” left an ambiguous impression! Very quickly, ensuing declarations condemned antisemitism as such. Thus in 1974: “the spiritual ties and the historical relations connecting the Church to Judaism condemn, as opposed to the very spirit of Christianity, all forms of antisemitism and discrimination, which the dignity of the human person alone is sufficient to condemn.”4 Since then all the teaching of the Magisterium was constant in this condemnation and in this commitment to the struggle. Here is not the place to review all the history.

If it is situated in this [post-conciliar] continuity, the first original aspect of this [new] text is therefore its title, which establishes the link between these two aspects of our relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Without doubt there are elements of anti-Judaism that persist or which reappear still in hearts, minds, traditions, and clichés, even if the entire Catholic Church, as was recalled by Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, is committed to stressing the link that unites us, as we could read in a 1985 document from the Holy See: “Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis and preaching: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated into it.”5

The text of the declaration is explicit: “Remedying antisemitism and anti-Judaism is the indispensable foundation of true brotherhood on a universal scale.”6

There is a second point that deserves to be noted: the identity of the signatories. This declaration is made on behalf of the entire French episcopate. It commits, "obliges" all the bishops and therefore each of them. To appreciate the road that has been traveled and perhaps the evolution [that has occurred] over the generations, it is good to remember the reactions aroused by the “Pastoral Orientations” of 1973. This writing came from the “Commission for Relations with Judaism,” the forerunner of the current SNRJ [National Service for Relations with Judaism].” The forcefulness of the reactions, in particular that of Cardinal Danielou in an op-ed in Le Figaro,7 but of many others as well, led the Commission of the time to promise a comment that would clarify certain points. There were both theological issues and the issue of Israel and the Palestinians that sparked this outcry. L'Osservatore Romano, through the pen of Fr. Alessandrini, distanced itself and recalled that it was only the French Commission that was a signatory.

Likewise, the 1997 Drancy Declaration of Repentance was not signed by the entire French episcopate but by the bishops of the dioceses in which there had been camps, i.e., by 16 bishops. The choice was made to limit the signatories so as not to bog down its elaboration in endless debates that could have jeopardized its publication. Bishop Billé, then president of the CEF [Bishops’ Conference of France], revealed how much this declaration had caused misunderstandings because of those who did not perceive the link between Christianity and Judaism and adhered to the notion of ​​a deicidal people: “I note above all, alas, that the antisemitism is not dead and that its most classic arguments, if I dare use the word, are still current.”8 We know, moreover, where the whole debate over the process of repentance initiated by John Paul II on the eve of the Jubilee of the year 2000 led and how there was much theological work done to justify and explain this process.9

Certainly, one cannot suspect the Church of France of "dragging its feet" to engage in the meeting, the dialogue with the Jewish community and its members, as Bishop E. de Moulins-Beaufort also reminded us in his address. But a text which collectively engages the Body of the Church has a weight other than the sum of all individual initiatives, at whatever level [of authority] they might be! There is the convergence of a substantive choice that engages everyone and the person-to-person, community-to-community on the ground that involves all actors wherever they are. So, it is no longer just a question of a personal choice or of individual sensitivity, but rather of a service for the putting into practice of a decision shared by the whole Church, undertaken by all of her pastors.

The third important point of this declaration: its timing! There just isn’t any [!], as Chief Rabbi Haïm Korsia noted in his remarks. This declaration, and therefore this commitment, is not the result of the pressure of burning news, following a particular attack. It is a mature decision, considered, of course, in a noxious and worrying climate, but there is not an emergency prompting a new response to violent antisemitic acts. It is not solidarity and commiseration over a particular tragedy that led to the signing of this text. It is the fruit of a long journey, of an inconspicuous, silent maturation, which allows consciences to advance, and minds to ponder and take a position in a calm and supportable way. Sometimes some participants in the dialogue makers get impatient and critical, but time is needed to give more weight to the encounter.

The fourth point to note is the clear affirmation on an equal footing of the twin foundations of this commitment: Christian roots and the relationship to the Jewish people living today. The original link between Judaism and Christianity is a parentage that establishes us as brothers. We know the pitfalls of the two images: in one case, the son succeeds the father and seeks to kill him (this leads to the theology of substitution) and in the other, it is the fraternal quarrel that can also lead to murder. But the two must be held together: sons of the same Father, we are brothers, and we must build this fraternity. John Paul II10 and Benedict XVI used both images. So there is this theological link that binds Christian identity to Jewish identity: “The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us but, in a certain sense, it is ‘intrinsic' to our own religion.”11 To which are added the historical and contemporary reasons: the relationship between our communities and its tragic fruit with the persecution unique in its causes and in its industrialized and systematic execution during the Shoah. All the work that has been accomplished is not the result of a guilty conscience that we would like to clear ourselves of at little cost, but of the awareness of our own responsibility. A responsibility that binds the future.

This is perhaps the fifth original aspect of this text: the strength of its dogged positioning for the future. It is about the building of brotherhood, a universal brotherhood, but one in which the brotherhood between Jews and Christians is a paradigm and must therefore be exemplary. I would readily interpret this statement as the response to the statement of November 23, 2015 by the Jewish community, delivered by Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia to Cardinal André Vingt-Trois. Indeed, the text could have been content to be a stronger, more solemn, more “binding” condemnation of antisemitism and anti-Judaism, in the name of human dignity and the fight against racism. But there is an echo of the invitation then expressed: "the Jubilee that begins summons us to work together to build this universal brotherhood and to achieve a common ethic, valid for the whole world.”12

As Francis Kalifat has clearly highlighted when listing the names of the 12 victims of the past twenty years, antisemitism is not about debates and ideas, it is an attitude that kills! That destroys lives, families, a community! That generates anxiety, a feeling that torments daily! It also suggests, in response, an attitude: that of commiseration and empathy, that of intimacy and commitment! So it's not just about condemning and struggling, it's about loving our Jewish brothers and sisters. And in very concrete terms! A number have done so throughout history risking their very lives! They are the ones who should be the examples in the building of this brotherhood.

This declaration is therefore not only a condemnation and a commitment to fight an evil. One could assemble an anthology of all these condemnations for 50 years, including that of the Holy Office in 1928, but it has hardly been heard! Today, the “command” is a positive one. It is not a matter of simple non-violence, of simple protection, of simple coexistence. It’s about being brothers. And Pope Francis proclaimed it well in a Wednesday audience: “It [persecuting Jews] is neither human nor Christian: Jews are our brothers and sisters!” He had introduced [these words], saying: “The Jewish people have suffered so much in history: They have been driven out, persecuted. And, over the last century, we have seen so much, so much brutality that they have done to the Jewish people and we were all convinced that it was over. But today, the habit of persecuting Jews is beginning to revive here and there.”13

 This declaration is therefore in line with the development of thought on our new relationship with Judaism but also more broadly in the implementation of the Guidelines of Pope Francis on fraternity developed in the encyclical "Fratelli tutti." This call also follows on from the papal exhortation to combat indifference,14 that perverse, insidious, and deadly evil.

And the declaration concludes with an opening for the whole of society. The Church has a word to give, a word of life, for every person, and therefore for everyone in today's society. It is therefore addressed to all, because it is all of our lives that are at stake. Because, as President Macron said in Jerusalem a year ago: “In our history, antisemitism always preceded the weakening of democracy.”15 Francis Kalifat recalled: “Because as often in history if antisemitism starts with the Jews, it never stops with the Jews.” So this is not just a question between Jews and Christians, it is about our whole life in society. Christians must be the leaven in this struggle so that fraternity may arise in all of society.”

In conclusion, how can we not mention a scheduling [coincidence] that certainly went unnoticed by the planners of this development, which occurred the day before the 40th anniversary of the appointment of Jean Marie-Aaron Lustiger, as Archbishop of Paris.  This is certainly a fruit he would not disavow.

 

Bro. Louis-Marie Coudray O.S.B.
Consultor of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews
Abu Gosh, February 8, 2021

 

Notes:

  1. Declaration of Repentance of Drancy, September 30, 1997.

  2. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “We Remember,” 1998, §4.

  3. Nostra Aetate, §4.

  4. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “Guidelines and Suggestions for the Implementation of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, No. 4” (1974).

  5. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, » 1985, I §2.

  6. https://ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/documents-and-statements/roman-catholic/other-conferences-of-catholic-bishops/cef-2021feb1

  7. Jean Danielou, “L’Église devant le Judaïsme,” Le Figaro, April 28-29, 1973.

  8. Statement by Bishop Billé at the opening of l”AP in November 1997, Lourdes, quoted by Menahem Macina, Les frères retrouvés, de l'hostilité chrétienne à l'égard des juifs à la reconnaissance de la vocation d'Israël, pp. 131-132.

  9. International Theological Commission, “Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past” (2000).

  10. Pope John Paul II, Address at the Great Synagogue of Rome (1986).

  11. Pope John Paul II, Address at the Great Synagogue of Rome (1986).

  12. “Declaration for the Upcoming Jubilee of Brotherhood, November 23, 2015.

  13. General Audience, November 13, 2019.

  14. N.B. Pope Francis, “I do not grow tired of repeating that indifference is a virus that is dangerously contagious in our time, a time when we are ever more connected with others, but are increasingly less attentive to others.” (Address to the International Conference on the Responsibility to Fight Antisemitic Hate Crimes, January 29, 2018).

  15. Address at Yad Vashem, January 23, 2020.