When the State of Israel was born again after three thousand years on May 14, 1948, in every Jewish neighborhood worldwide there had been dancing in the streets that lasted all night. But, as always in Jewish history, joy and sorrow came together. Many American Jews had experienced the Holocaust as witnesses who did not do all they could. Some tried to purge their memories and move on.
The Crucible of the Holocaust
Dennis Prager wrote in 2008,
I am a God-believing, -believing, religious (though not Orthodox) Jew, author of a book on Judaism and a book on anti-Semitism.… The notion that God willed the Holocaust is neither anti-Jewish nor even un-Jewish. There are, after all, only two possible explanations regarding God and the Holocaust: 1. God allowed it but did not will it. 2. God willed it. This is simple logic. Like most other people, I find neither explanation religiously or morally, let alone emotionally, satisfying. But both are Jewishly acceptable. There is a long tradition in Judaism that collective Jewish suffering is often God-willed. On the Jewish holy days, the central prayer (the Amidah) of the Jewish service contains a paragraph beginning: “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.1
In Moses’ time, if the people Israel did what God wanted, God gave them what they wanted in this life, but if they did not they would perish. The second telling of the Shma, Deut 11:13–20, made it explicit. God repeated it in the Book of Leviticus.
If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last to the time for sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land securely. And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will remove evil beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. And I will have regard for you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and will confirm my covenant with you. And you shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. And I will make my abode among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; and I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. Lev 26:3–13.
If you will not listen to me, and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, I will do this to you: I will appoint over you sudden terror; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it; I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies; those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will chastise you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like brass; and your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit. Then if you walk contrary to me, and will not listen to me, I will bring more plagues upon you, sevenfold as many as your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number, so that your ways shall become desolate. And if by this discipline you are not turned to me, but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant; and if you gather within your cities I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and shall deliver your bread again by weight; and you shall eat, and not be satisfied. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and chastise you myself sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols; and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste, and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing odors. And I will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Lev 26:14–33.
As the centuries passed, God’s emphasis began to change. King David wrote, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” Ps 51:17. It led straight to Isaiah’s great prophecy of God’s Mashiakh: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” Is 53:3–5.
American Jews saw the Holocaust through the Mosaic lens. Elie Wiesel, Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and head of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, declared publicly after the Holocaust, “For the very first time in our history, this very covenant was broken. That is why the Holocaust has terrifying theological implications.”2 He repeated it nine years later. “I believe during the Holocaust the covenant was broken.”3
God had promised, “Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them” Lev 26:44. Elie Wiesel read the New York Times every day and saw its monumental refusal to witness, he knew what the American Jewish community had not done, yet he asked, “Why was the outside world indifferent to Jewish suffering and agony? … Why was the Vatican still and complacent? … Why didn’t the allies bomb the railways leading to Birkenau, where, day after day, night after night, 10,000 Jews were murdered in the most brutal ways imaginable? … When all is said and done, it represents a grave theological challenge to Christianity.”4
Wiesel said, “This was the meaning of the Holocaust … we [the Jews] proved to [God] that we were more patient than he, more compassionate, too … we know that it is given to man to transform divine injustice into human justice and compassion”5 Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, former president of the American Jewish Congress and the author of Judaism, wrote, “I was aware then, in 1948, that I could never return to the Orthodox faith in God. I would not forgive him for the Holocaust, and I would not absolve him by agreeing that the death camps had existed in a realm that he could not control.”6 Jewish theologian Richard Lowell Rubenstein added, “God really died at Auschwitz.… If I believe in God as the omnipotent author of the historical drama and Israel as his chosen people, I have to accept [the] conclusion that it was God’s will that Hitler committed six million Jews to slaughter. I could not possibly believe in such a God, nor could I believe in Israel as the chosen people of God after Auschwitz.”7
Wiesel asked, “Why, but why should I bless him? … How could I say to Him: ‘Blessed art Thou, Eternal, Master of the Universe, Who chose us from among the races to be tortured day and night, to see our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end in the crematory? Praised be Thy Holy Name, Thou Who hast chosen us to be butchered on Thine altar?’”8
Perhaps Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Hertzberg remembered the days of Antiochus IV’s prohibition against Judaism, when the Greeks could not understand men who would die for God. But Wiesel and Hertzberg could not accept that God would take on human nature and die for them. Mosaic Judaism knew about atoning sacrifice and the todah sacrifice, but Rabbinic Judaism did not want to see redemptive suffering that led straight to Rabbi Yeshua. By its close associations with Rabbi Yeshua’s crucifixion and Resurrection that had alarmed Michael Wyschogrod, Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Hertzberg and Richard Rubenstein, the Holocaust had been a grave theological challenge to Judaism.
Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Hertzberg and Richard Rubenstein were not men at the outer edges of Judaism. They were highly respected Jewish authorities, men at the center. The Shma, Judaism’s central prayer, told them that they would be rewarded for good behavior. They did not see anything that they had done to warrant this. They did not see. Isaiah’s ancient prophecy that they would remain blind remained alive in their hearts Is 6:9–12. They were so resistant that they would blame God rather than themselves! God broke the covenant? The Jews were more compassionate than God himself? God really died? Wiesel’s outcry, “Praised be Thy Holy Name, Thou Who hast chosen us to be butchered on Thine altar?” had it exactly backward.
Wiesel did not think of a Jew two thousand years ago who was butchered on a Cross to redeem us all. He did not remember Rabbi Yeshua‘s prophecy, “For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” Lk 19:43–44.
You did not know the time of your visitation! Rabbi Yeshua had taught his followers redemptive suffering. The evidence warranted belief. The Jews who had followed him were baptized into his Final Sacrifice Rom 6:3–4. But the Jews who did not follow him did not take shelter in his Final Sacrifice, an echo of Israel in Egypt when God passed over the Jews who obeyed regarding the sacrificed lamb’s body and blood Ex 12:7, 13, while any Jews who did not obey lost their firstborn Ex 12:12. The eternal election originally involved a covenant in the flesh Gen 17:11–14. The Jewish nation, still driven by its eternal election but refusing to follow Rabbi Yeshua participated in the flesh in Rabbi Yeshua‘s Final Sacrifice.
Rabbi Yeshua‘s shlikhim referred to the deuterocanonicals in their own writing. Rabbi Paul urged us to follow the Septuagint heroes who accepted torture and death to rise to a better life: “Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life” Heb 11:35. It came from the martyrdom of the seven brothers, 2 Mac 7:1–41, in which the heroic mother urged her youngest son, “Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers” 2 Mac 7:29. This mother taught her sons the lesson of redemptive suffering that Rabbi Yeshua taught us all on the Cross. It appears nowhere in the Tanakh, but the many Jews who followed Rabbi Yeshua, who read Hebrews and remembered Maccabees in the Septuagint, knew, were baptized into Rabbi Yeshua‘s Final Sacrifice Rom 6:3–4 and found their Passover during the Holocaust.
St. Edith Stein, the saint with no grave, the Jewish woman who became a Carmelite 13:25 nun and perished in the Holocaust, did understand redemptive suffering. She also participated in the flesh but peacefully told the Nazis who came for her,
I joyfully accept in advance the death God has appointed for me, in perfect submission to his most holy will. May the Lord accept my life and death for the honor and glory of his name, for the needs of his holy Church … for the Jewish people, that the Lord may be received by his own and his Kingdom come in glory.9
St. Edith Stein reminds us of the early Jewish Christian martyrs. Her final words to her sister Rosa, as they both were led from their convent by SS guards to the train that would carry them to Auschwitz, a train filled entirely with Catholics of Jewish origin, were, “Come, let us go for our people.”10
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” Jn 10:10. In the crucible of the Holocaust God revealed to the Jewish nation that Rabbi Yeshua is the Halakha. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” Mt 5:17. The Old Testament and the New Testament are bound together as the Book of Life. It was no longer tenable to believe in one without the other because they are one in the New and Eternal Covenant. Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritas Est § 12, called it: “the profound compenetration of the two Testaments as the one Scripture of the Christian faith.”
The Sign of Jonah
And Rabbi Yeshua made sure the Jews of his own time knew that the Sign of Jonah was intended for them. “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” Jon 1:17. Rabbi Yeshua planned that “three days and three nights” to alert the Jews: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” Mt 12:40.
“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” Lk 11:29–32.
In Rabbi Yeshua‘s time the Sign of Jonah had a more important meaning for repent or die. He told the chief priests and elders, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it” Mt 21:43.
The many Jews who followed Rabbi Yeshua found the eternal Temple Jn 2:21; Mt 26:26. The others who did not follow Lk 19:44 in AD 70 on the Ninth of Av lost the only Temple they knew. It was the death of Mosaic Judaism with its Torah sacrifices, the heart of Judaism up to that time, and the transition to Rabbinic Judaism.
As part of the Catholic Mass of Ordination a deacon lies prostrate on the Church floor before the sanctuary because for that moment of ordination a bow to Rabbi Yeshua is not enough. He lies prostrate because he is expressing love, highest of all the virtues, and humility, highest of the capital virtues, making himself as low as humanly possible, before becoming a priest for Rabbi Yeshua.
St. Augustine wrote,
It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in the last days before the judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ, that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elias who shall expound the law to them. For not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Savior Elias shall come, because we have good reason to believe that he is now alive; for, as Scripture most distinctly informs us 2 Kings 2:11, he was taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. … And the meaning is, that the sons, that is, the Jews, shall understand the law as the fathers, that is, the prophets, and among them Moses himself, understood it. For the heart of the fathers shall be turned to their children when the children understand the law as their fathers did; and the heart of the children shall be turned to their fathers when they have the same sentiments as the fathers. The Septuagint used the expression, and the heart of a man to his next of kin, because fathers and children are eminently neighbors to one another. Another and a preferable sense can be found in the words of the Septuagint translators, who have translated Scripture with an eye to prophecy, the sense, viz., that Elias shall turn the heart of God the Father to the Son, not certainly as if he should bring about this love of the Father for the Son, but meaning that he should make it known, and that the Jews also, who had previously hated, should then love the Son who is our Christ.11
St. Augustine was not only an eminent Church Father but also a Doctor of the Church, strong evidence that the full inclusion of the Jews has been the common teaching of the Church since Rabbi Yeshua‘s public revelation.
It still is. § 674: “The full inclusion of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of the full number of the Gentiles, will enable the People of God to achieve the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, in which God may be all in all.”
After two thousand years, Rabbi Yeshua’s prophecy that the times of the Gentiles would be complete was fulfilled in June 10, 1967, when the Six-Day War ended in victory for all of Jerusalem! A case could be made for dating the fulfillment June 7, when the cry went forth, Har Habayit Beyadenu! Har Habayit Beyadenu! But there was probably some cleanup to be done, finding and removing holdouts, so Second Exodus dates it from the time of the ceasefire. It really doesn’t matter. June 1967 is time enough.
At that time a great change came over the Jewish people. In God’s immense providence the fulfillment of Rabbi Yeshua‘s prophecy brought the Holocaust to the forefront of American Jewish consciousness. Perhaps some of them remembered,
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all Is 53:3–6,
and compared him with the appearance of the shoah victims. And perhaps they remembered Rabbi Lapide’s conclusion that Pope Pius XII and his Vatican saved about 860,000 Jews. Some Jews began coming into the Catholic Church and Messianic Judaism. “Who can retell the things that befell us?” Mi Y’malel 3:31
The Resurrection of the Jewish Nation
Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “With their very own existence, the Twelve—called from different backgrounds—become an appeal for all of Israel to convert and allow herself to be gathered into the new covenant, complete and perfect fulfillment of the ancient one.”12
From the beginning, our Father had led his people Israel to see their resurrection as the resurrection of the whole house of Israel Ezek 37:11. Now, at last, we can see what it was all about. Hebrew Scripture understands the individual to be part of his tribe, and ultimately part of the Jewish nation. Only Rabbi Yeshua‘s Final Sacrifice could bring about the resurrection of the twelve tribes of the whole house of Israel. God’s people Israel, with their eternal election as his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8 could reach their own resurrection only in King Mashiakh, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews” Jn 19:19, through the Church that he instituted, the church of the twelve tribes, the universal church.
Because Judaism sees in a name the person’s whole identity, the entire Jewish nation remains a thanksgiving before God. “And [Leah] conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise [odeh] the Lord”; therefore she called his name Judah [yehuda]” Gen 29:35. In Hebrew, odeh means both “will praise” and “will give thanks.” Both odeh and yehuda come from todah, thanks. Jew, of course, is short for Judahite. In the Hebrew mind thanks and praise usually come together. All that the Jewish nation bears for the greater glory of God is a preparation for the Todah Sacrifice par excellence, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which declares, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”
Rabbi Yeshua has already prepared ten of the tribes by merging them into the Gentile populations, through which they entered the new Israel. Now, in our own time, he is preparing to lead the remaining tribes into the new Israel, so that all twelve might participate in the resurrection of the Church, and ascend with it to the marriage supper of the Lamb Rev 19:9.
Lamenting over Jerusalem, Rabbi Yeshua declared, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Mt 23:39. We recall the Passover, the first Todah Sacrifice, a perpetual sacrifice-feast for when the Jewish nation was saved by the body and blood of a sacrificed lamb. Rabbi Yeshua‘s Final Sacrifice transformed it into the marriage supper of the Lamb on earth. He releasing us through the law of the goel from the original sin that had closed paradise Gen 3:24, opened the kingdom of heaven Lk 23:43 to man, and through his command, “Do this in remembrance of me” Lk 22:19, gave us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the true marriage supper of the Lamb on earth. Then the angel in heaven told Rabbi Yokhanan, “Write this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” Rev 19:9. The marriage supper of the Lamb on earth is our invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven, and the virtuous of all Israel will be at table.
Father Neuhaus observes, “After the Council the Catholic Church was formalizing its conversations with non-Christians, the Jewish interlocutors insisted that they not be grouped with the Vatican dicastery designed to deal with other religions but be included in conjunction with the secretariat for promoting Christian unity … that arrangement has, I believe, much more profound implications than were perhaps realized at the time.”13
The Jewish-Catholic Dialogue
Father Neuhaus points out that the Jewish-Catholic dialogue exists primarily in the United States. “In Europe, for tragically obvious reasons, there are not enough Jews; in Israel, for reasons of growing tragedy, there are not enough Christians. Only in America are there enough Jews and Christians in a relationship of mutual security to make possible a dialogue that is unprecedented in two thousand years of history.”15
Most important of all, Father Neuhaus observes,
There is no avoiding the much vexed question of whether this means that Jews should enter into the further fulfillment of the salvation story by becoming Christians. Christians cannot, out of a desire to be polite, answer that question in the negative. We can and must say that the ultimate duty of each person is to form his conscience in truth and act upon that discernment; we can and must say that there are great goods to be sought in dialogue apart from conversion; we can and must say that we reject proselytizing, which is best defined as evangelizing in a way that demeans the other; we can and must say that Jews and Christians need one another in many public tasks imposed upon us by a culture that is, in large part, in manifest rebellion against the God of Israel; we can and must say that there are theological, philosophical, and moral questions to be explored together, despite our differences regarding Messianic promise; we can and must say that friendship between Jew and Christian can be secured in shared love for the God of Israel; we can and must say that the historical forms we call Judaism and Christianity will be transcended, but not superseded, by the fulfillment of eschatological promise. But along the way to that final fulfillment we are locked in argument. It is an argument by which “for both Jew and Christian” conscience is formed, witness is honed, and friendship is deepened. This is our destiny, and this is our duty, as members of the one people of God” a people of God for which there is no plural.16
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) concludes: “With St. Paul, we acknowledge that God does not regret, repent of, or change his mind about the ‘gifts and the call’ that he has given to the Jewish people (Rom 11:29). At the same time, we also believe that the fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God‘s promises to Israel, is found only in Rabbi Yeshua. By God‘s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation. Fulfilling the mandate given her by the Lord, the Church, respecting human freedom, proclaims the truths of the Gospel in love.”17
Since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the dialogue with the Jews has overwhelmingly been with the Conservative and Reform branches. Since they have most of the financial, political and cultural influence, the dialogue has been helpful in social areas such as the eradication of Jewish anti-Christianity and Christian anti-Semitism. But a dialogue between the eternal Catholic Church and Jewish relativist movements of recent origin can at times take on an air of unreality.
Ecumenism reaches out to the Christian faith communities. It does not apply to the Jews, because Judaism is not at all a different religion but the earlier stage of God’s true revelation in salvation history. Recall the words of Nostra Aetate § 4: “Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God‘s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets.”
To the Gospels
Some liberal rabbis from time to time hurl the charge that Rabbi Yokhanan‘s Gospel, and therefore Christianity itself, is inherently anti-Semitic. “Let us reason together” Is 1:18. Rabbi Yokhanan‘s Gospel is a text written by a religious Jew to persuade other religious Jews that an extraordinary rabbi of their time was God’s Mashiakh foretold in Hebrew Scripture Jn 20:31. If disputes among Jews are signs of anti-Semitism, what shall we say of the Talmud?
Often the complaint is that the Gospels depict the Jewish authorities of that time as sinful. “And many such things you do” Mk 7:13 They often cite, “We have no king but Caesar” Jn 19:15, but not, “They have rejected me from being king over them” 1 Sam 8:7, even though 1 Sam 8:7 and Jn 19:15 confirm one another. Hebrew Scripture depicts King David as an adulterer, a deceiver and a murderer 2 Sam 11:4, 10–13, 14. The psalmist tells us that the Israelites “sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood” Ps 106:37–38. Isaiah declared, “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged” Is 1:4. If we place on one side of a balance scale the Masoretic text of Hebrew Scripture, and on the other side the four canonical Gospels, which depicts Israel as more sinful?
To Catholic Prayers
On February 6, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI announced a change in the extraordinary form Good Friday liturgy. The extraordinary form, in Latin, usus antiquoir. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated according to the Missale Romanum published by Pope Pius V in his decree Quo Primum on July 14, 1570. Quo Primum states: “This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world …” Church law has always held that no pope can bind a future pope in a matter of Church discipline, man-made law. Pope Pius V here means by forever “until such time as a future pope may change it.”
Pope Benedict XVI eliminated the extraordinary form reference to the Jews’ blindness Is 6:9–12, prayed in the hope that God will lead the Jews to accept Rabbi Yeshua as their Savior so that all Israel might be saved remained in the liturgy. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League expressed their view: “While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed, we are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact.”18
Cardinal Walter Kasper, speaking for the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, said in an interview in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Seraon February 7, 2008, “I must say that I don’t understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our prayers.” Liberal Jews who protest against the Good Friday liturgy in its extraordinary form, prayed once a year in a relatively small number of churches, would never rescind the birkat ha minim, the twelfth prayer of the Amidah which observant Jews pray in the synagogue three times every day.
But Are They True
The Jewish Daily Forward declares: “The medieval text, traditionally the centerpiece of the pre-Easter Good Friday ritual, inspired centuries of Jewish humiliation and suffering at the hands of inflamed Christian faithful.”19 The Forward adds: “Recited on Good Friday, the traditional anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion, the prayer sometimes provoked listeners in past centuries to fits of anti-Jewish rage.… Too often, the service ended in mob attacks on Jewish neighborhoods.”
The proposition that reflection on the Crucifixion still incites Christians to violence received a comprehensive test in 2004 when Mel Gibson released his epic, The Passion of the Christ. 1:55 In the months before its release, press accounts were filled to the brim with dark predictions that it would trigger a tidal wave of anti-Semitism. Had any of these reporters ever set foot in a Catholic parish church and seen the life-size crucifix above and behind the altar? Did they notice the Stations of the Cross, prayed by most Catholics each year on Good Friday and by some devout Catholics every morning? Mel Gibson’s movie had simply brought the Stations of the Cross to the silver screen.
Jeremy Lott writes, “The Passion was an astounding commercial success. Following the film’s release on Ash Wednesday of February 2004, ticket sales for the first extended weekend topped $83 million in the United States alone. By the time the movie finished its run in theaters, it had earned more than $370 million domestically and $241 million in foreign box offices—a total of $611 million worldwide, give or take several hundred thousand dollars.”20 During the days and weeks afterward, the liberal media, massively committed to the anti-Semitism template, searched high and low for incidents of anti-Semitism that could somehow be traced to the movie.
They found one. Rev. Maurice Gordon, pastor of the tiny 100-member Lovingway United Pentecostal Church in Denver, Colorado, had put up on his marquee: “Jews killed the Lord Jesus.” The Anti-Defamation League pounced. The media pounced. Then came the response. Two hundred Christian protesters showed up. Crushing criticism came from across the Christian spectrum, from Catholics, from evangelicals, from mainstream Protestants. The pastor hurried to change his marquee: “I am deeply sorry for offending the Jewish people, whom I love. Brother Gordon.” It was not enough. Pastor Gordon announced his resignation within a month.
Many Jews still say, “Can’t you Christians just leave us alone?”
Hillel Halkin writes, “The American Jewish community is rapidly polarizing into more and more assimilated Jews, on the one hand, and more and more Jewish Jews on the other. The broad ethnic middle has fallen out of it.” Father Neuhaus adds, “Halkin emphasizes that only the Orthodox are holding their own. They are 10 percent of American Jewry, 20 percent of American Jews under 18, and barely 1 percent of them intermarry.”21 The Judaism that has survived is the Judaism that will survive.
There are positive signs that the dialogue is being taken up by observant Jews of robust faith. Hillel Halkin, in his New York Sun column Take It As a Compliment, responded to the Conservative rabbinate, and implicitly to the Forward:
I find 21st century Jewish protests against such prayers, or other expressions of the Christian wish that Jews convert to Christianity, amusing. The era of the auto-da-fé is over. Atavistic reactions aside, it’s hard to see what makes major Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League repeatedly do such things as send frantic messages last week to the Vatican.”
Halkin adds a crucial point:
There is more justification for a Christian praying for a Jew’s conversion than vice versa. Jews do not traditionally believe that Gentiles will be made to suffer in an afterlife for not embracing Judaism; Christians do traditionally believe that Jews, like all other non-Christians, will be consigned to eternal damnation if they do not accept Jesus. What kind of Christian would it be who, convinced that his Jewish friend was bound for everlasting torment, did not do everything to save him from it? What kind of friend?22
Halkin adds further:
Jews often talk about Christian missionary work in their midst as if it posed a mortal danger without realizing how self-demeaning this anxiety is. Are there really so many Jews who are ready to run to the baptismal fount with the first knock of a Christian missionary on their door? One doubts it—but if it’s true, it’s a sad comment not on the predatoriness of Christianity, but on the weakness of contemporary Judaism and Jewish identity. Jews must have little confidence in themselves indeed if they have to live in fear of Christian soul snatchers.
Frankly, I don’t see how it’s possible to be a believing Christian without hoping that the Jews will one day accept Jesus. If they don’t need him for their salvation, does anyone? Even those Christians (and there is a growing number of them today) who are aware of how Jewish the historical figure of Jesus was, and who have a genuine appreciation of Judaism and even a feeling of closeness to it, are convinced that in the end the Jewish people will recognize this figure as the Messiah they gave to the world. I know such Christians. Not only do they not have an anti-Jewish bone in their bodies, they think far more of the Jews than many Jews do.23
The Church’s Catechism does say that § 1257 “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.” However, it adds, § 1260 “The Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God …”
The great Jewish tradition of disputation has deep roots in the Oral Law. The rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai constantly disputed over the Mosaic Law. The Mishna is filled with disputations; one rabbi interprets the Law this way, and another that way, blended to resolve inconsistencies. It was an invigorating way to grow in understanding of the Torah.
Rabbi Jacob Neusner in June 2007 began a delightful article in the Jewish Daily Forward, “I made up an imaginary conversation with Jesus and wound up debating the real-life Bishop of Rome, the pope.”24 But he soon became serious.
In ancient and medieval times, disputations concerning propositions of religious truth defined the purpose of dialogue between religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity.… Such debates attested to the common faith of both parties in the integrity of reason and in the facticity of shared Scriptures.25
Rabbi Neusner added, “Disputation went out of style when religions lost their confidence in the power of reason to establish theological truth. … religions were made to affirm a truth in common, and the differences between religions were dismissed as trivial and unimportant.”
Rabbi Neusner recalled that during the Middle Ages disputations were often conducted through persecution rather than respectful theological debate. But then he came to the point:
Two new facts have opened the way to a renewed debate about religious truth:
Second, the Second Vatican Council began the work of formulating a Catholic theology of Judaism and other religions, an enterprise realized for Christianity in St. John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope.
The counterpart for a Judaic theology of world religions is Chief Rabbi Sacks’ The Dignity of Difference. “It is against this backdrop that one should view my exchange with Pope Benedict. What we have done is to revive the disputation as a medium of dialogue on theological truth. In this era of relativism and creeping secularism, it is an enterprise that, I believe, has the potential to strengthen Judaism and Christianity alike.”26
The resurgence of the ancient tradition of disputation is an exciting event in salvation history. We may pray that Rabbi Neusner‘s interest in the renewal of the theological dialogue, as well as Pope Benedict XVI’s interest in preparing for the great events of salvation history that are unfolding before our eyes, will all be realized in God’s time.
Rabbi Neusner remains respectful of Rabbi Yeshua as the Son of God even while disagreeing with him. God often teaches us through the tradition of disputation. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” Ezek 18:25. Rabbi Yeshua did the same. “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’; but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do” Mk 7:10–13.” Rabbi Neusner dialogues respectfully with Rabbi Yeshua at this level.
Pope Benedict XVI
There is an important book in which the great Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner takes his place, as it were, among the audience of the Sermon on the Mount and, having listened to Jesus, attempts a dialogue with him under the title A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus’ words and to the choice that the Gospel places before us. In the second section, then, I would like as a Christian to join in the rabbi’s conversation with Jesus, so as to be guided toward a better understanding of the authentic Jewishness and the mystery of Jesus.27
Benedict sets the pace with what he calls “the great question that will be with us throughout this entire book. What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought?” And the Holy Father gives his answer:
The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom Literature—the God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the nations of the earth. He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves.28
Rabbi Yeshua had revealed his divinity to the whole Jewish nation. We have seen the overwhelming evidence that warranted belief in Rabbi Yeshua as God’s Mashiakh, and that the Jewish nation refused to accept the obvious. Yet Pope Benedict XVI holds Rabbi Jacob Neusner, the author of A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, in high regard. Rabbi Neusner’s frame of reference is the Jewish hagada, which does not contemplate the arrival on earth of a divine person. Faithful to the hagada, he speaks of eternal Israel as God’s revelation to Moses, not its completion by Rabbi Yeshua.29 But Rabbi Neusner has read Catholic theology as well as Jewish theology, and takes Rabbi Yeshua seriously. Let us briefly join Pope Benedict XVI in looking at Rabbi Neusner’s concerns about Rabbi Yeshua’s influence on two of the commandments.
The Third Commandment
Rabbi Neusner‘s concern for the Sabbath Commandment is not about the disciples’ right to pluck the ears of wheat Mt 12:1. “He [Jesus] and his disciples may do on the Sabbath what they do because they stand in the place of the priests in the Temple.”30 Rather, he sees the Sabbath as not merely a negative, “you shall not do any work” Ex 20:10, but rather a positive command to rest, thereby imitating God who rested on the seventh day Gen 2:3. Rabbi Neusner says that the Sabbath “makes eternal Israel what it is, the people that, like God in creating the world, rest from creation on the Seventh Day.”31 The consequence of Rabbi Yeshua’s centrality in Israel’s daily life, he believes, is the loss of Jewish identity.
Pope Benedict XVI summarizes, “The issue of Jesus’ claim to be Temple and Torah in person also has implications for the question of Israel–the issue of the living community of the people in whom God’s word is actualized.”32 And he responds, “The essential elements of the Old Testament Sabbath then naturally passed over to the Lord’s Day in the context of table fellowship with Jesus.”33 The Holy Father adds, “The Church thus recuperated the social function of the Sabbath as well, always in relation to the ‘Son of Man.’ An unmistakable signal of this was the fact that Constantine’s Christian-inspired reform of the legal system granted slaves certain freedoms on Sundays; the Lord’s Day was thus introduced as a day of freedom and rest into a legal system now shaped on Christian principles … [that] stands in continuity with the Torah of Israel.”34
The Fourth Commandment
Rabbi Neusner sees the Family Commandment as the heart of Israel’s social order in a different sense. We have seen how the Tanakh emphasizes the individual’s participation in his tribe. Rabbi Neusner sees this commandment as anchoring the heart of the social order of eternal Israel in the real, living, ever-present family. “We pray to the God we know … through the testimony of our family, to the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. So to explain who we are, eternal Israel, sages appeal to the metaphor of genealogy … to the fleshly connection, the family, as the rationale for Israel’s social existence.”35
Rabbi Neusner is concerned that Rabbi Yeshua elevates the supernatural family above the natural family. “While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.’” Mt 12:46–50. Rabbi Neusner asks, “Does Jesus not teach me to violate one of the two great commandments … that concern the social order?”36 Pope Benedict XVI responds, “The restructuring of the social order finds its basis and its justification in Jesus’ claim that he, with his community of disciples, forms the origin and center of a new Israel.”37
Rabbi Neusner recognizes that Torah students were often called by their teachers to leave home and family, wife and children, to devote themselves exclusively to the Torah. “The Torah then takes the place of genealogy, and the master of Torah gains a new lineage.”38 We may reply, “But, Rabbi Neusner, are you not saying what Rabbi Yeshua said, that the supernatural family is higher than the natural family?” He said, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” Mt 12:50. Pope Benedict XVI’s reply reflects the wider context of Rabbi Yeshua‘s message: “Now, when we read the Torah together with the entire Old Testament canon … we realize very clearly a point that is already substantially present in the Torah itself. That is, Israel does not exist simply for itself … it exists to be a light to the nations.”39 Rabbi Yeshua said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jn 8:12.
It is true that [Jesus’] invitation to join him as a member of a new and universal family through sharing his obedience to the Father does at first break up the social order of Israel. But from her very inception, the Church that emerged, and continues to emerge, has attached fundamental importance to defending the family as the core of all social order, and to standing up for the fourth commandment in the whole breadth of its meaning. We see how hard the Church fights to protect these things today. Likewise it soon became clear that the essential content of the Sabbath had to be re-interpreted in terms of the Lord’s day. The fight for Sunday is another of the Church’s major concerns to the present day, when there is so much to upset the rhythm of time that sustains community.40
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik
But for Jews, Neusner approaches Jesus in the wrong way, for Jesus is not someone with whom we can have this sort of ‘dialogue.’ If we deny his divinity, then we can respond with nothing short of shock and dismay when we read the words of a man who puts himself in the place of God. Thus, in his admirable attempt to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity, Neusner elides the most important difference of all.41
But even Rabbi Soloveichik sees merit in the dialogue. He writes,
What, then, should be the foundation of Jewish-Christian engagement? Neusner finds it unthinkable that Jews and Christians should have nothing to say to each other. “There is more to Judaism in its meeting with Christianity,” he argues, “than a mere no.” He is right.… But the most fruitful dialogue should not, contra Neusner, focus on the nuts and bolts of our relation to Jesus but rather on what traditional Jews and Christians have in common.
In fact, the most important subject of dialogue between Jews and Christians has been presented to us by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, right before he became Pope Benedict XVI. In a homily given before the College of Cardinals convened to pick the next pope, Ratzinger reflected on the Church’s responsibility in the modern age.… “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Benedict’s words ought to resonate with the religious Jew. For even as Jews and Christians profoundly disagree about the truth, they are united in the belief that there is a truth to be sought. Moreover, Jews and Christians share a belief in a traditional ethics that is seen today as old-fashioned and outmoded. …
A friendship founded on our mutual resistance to relativism is one that can unite us despite our theological differences. That will have to do until our debate over Jesus is resolved by God himself.42
This is the heart of the agreement between Neusner and Benedict. Both agree that Jesus’ words can only be interpreted as asserting his divinity.43 … The pope writes that Neusner gives Matthew a “Christological” interpretation, in that he understands Jesus is not just rejecting Judaism but rather equating himself with the divine.
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.… But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”44
C.S. Lewis’ famous “trilemma,” that Rabbi Yeshua could only have been right, mad, or lying, focuses only on whether he was a divine person or a human person. It invites a discussion of his teaching. Rabbi Neusner affirms this in his response to Rabbi Soloveichik:
To engage in dialogue is to affirm the integrity of the other, even while insisting on the unique truth of one’s own position. I think [Pope Benedict XVI] is entirely correct in his observation and do affirm that much of the teaching of Jesus derives from the Torah of Moses and forms the grounds for interfaith disputation, not merely secular dialogue.45
Martin Buber interjects:
What have you [Christians] and we [Jews] in common? If we take the question literally, a book and an expectation. To you, the book is a forecourt; to us it is the sanctuary. But in this place we can dwell together, and together listen to the voice that speaks here.… Your expectation is directed toward a second coming, ours to a coming which has not been anticipated by a first.… But we can wait for the advent of the One together, and there are moments when we may prepare the way before him together.46
Let us briefly take up the invited discussion of Rabbi Yeshua’s teaching from Rabbi Soloveichik’s perspective. Rabbi Soloveichik asserts that once a man declares solemnly that he is the Son of God, he can only be the Son or God or C.S. Lewis’ alternative, a madman or worse.
Rabbi Soloveichik and those who share his viewpoint bear the burden of explaining persuasively how a madman or worse could teach moral lessons so consistent with the Torah’s moral lessons and, without earthly power or possessions, two thousand years later, with no religious police to enforce conformity, be loved and adored by a billion Christians worldwide.
Catholics know that Rabbi Yeshua‘s Resurrection is the evidence par excellence that He is the Son of God 1 Cor 15:14. But the rabbis deny the Resurrection Mt 28:13, so here we focus on what they are more likely to accept: Today, among the world’s educated adults, perhaps one in ten thousand has heard of the false messiahs Shimon bar Kokhba and Shabbatai Zvi. The rabbis put Rabbi Yeshua in the same category, but all the world’s educated adults have heard of Jesus of Nazareth. He split all history in two. In all the world’s history no one else’s birthday is so widely and joyfully celebrated.
And, while they are at it, perhaps they will explain how his mother, the humble virgin Mary of Nazareth, could also be loved and revered by more than a billion Catholics while Livia Drusilla, the most powerful woman of her day, is dust in a forgotten grave. Even the tzadikim did not so honor their mothers. We know Moses’ mother only as Jochebed Ex 6:20; Num 26:59, and Aristotle’s mother only as Phaestis. We would expect the Son of God to honor his mother as the gevira. Would a madman or worse do so?
Now that we have met Rabbi Soloveichik, and at least briefly met Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and before we move on, I would like to introduce you to a conversation between them on Atheism, Fundamentalism, and the Future of Faith. 1:13:46 It is simply a joy to see two knowledgeable rabbis talking with one another: During the last 15 minutes of their conversation in particular Rabbi Sacks really gets going on the future of faith.
Faith in Europe has power. You have a national church, an established church. Virtually every European country has an established church. So in Europe faith is nationalized. … Margaret Thatcher … believed that privatization in Europe was the best thing. When religion came to America it was privatized. You don’t have an established church. You have a principled opposition to established church. You have no Archbishop of Canterbury. The end result is you have free competition, some of it quite free indeed! I switch on the television and what do I find? I get sounds! Oy gevalt, you will not find that in Europe.
America is the perfect proof that if you want to make religion strong deprive it of power and let it fight for influence. That is why America remains the most religious country in the western world. It is one of the most religious countries in the world, full stop! In a survey done in 2009 it turned out that more people on average in America go to a house of worship once a week than do so in the theocratic republic of Iran. Not many people know this. 40 percent of Americans say they go to church once a week and only 39 percent in Iran. Because in Europe Christianity was established it had immense power but very little influence. In America, as Alexis de Tocqueville had noted, it had no power at all but its influence was immense.
Yes, but it’s a pretty unpleasant moral fabric. Soviet Communism tried doing so without religion and instead used social engineering at a cost of the liberty of all and the lives of tens of millions of people. Nazi Germany tried to go back to the primitive gods of pre-Christian Germany and the end result was the Holocaust. You can have a social fabric without religion but Europe or the West has not had freedom without religion, and it has not had a society that lasted long without it. Greece declined when it lost its faith. Rome declined when it lost its faith, and the great historians … when a civilization loses its faith it begins to lose its capacity to survive. Europe is being populated entirely by migration because there is not a single one of the 27 countries in Europe that has a replacement birth rate. So Europe is aging and dying slowly. All sorts of new religions are entering Europe … There are now nine major faith communities in Britain. There are now more Muslims in mosques on Friday than there are Christians in churches on Sunday. Britain is still religious, but it is losing the one religion, Christianity, that actually made it what it was.47
The Child’s human nature at that moment had no power but his influence was so vast that all the world began counting time from his birth. St. John Paul II, in Redemptoris Missio § 39, “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.”
Michael Wyschogrod, insisting that Jews refresh their religion from its original sources, sees the election primarily in terms of Abram’s response to God’s command, lekh lekha Gen 12:1, and in the Abrahamic covenant Gen 12:1–4; 17:7–14. Wyschogrod declares boldly that Israel’s exclusive election is the central principle of the Hebrew Bible.
Second Exodus observes that the election was exclusive to ancient Israel only until the time of the Mashiakh. After the land of Israel was torn in two and the “ten lost tribes” were lost, God’s promise of resurrection was already evident in Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones Ezek 37:7–12 and its astonishing fulfillment at the moment of the Mashiakh’s Final Sacrifice on the Cross Mt 27:52–53. Rabbi Yeshua even repeated the Father’s direction to his twelve desert nomad tribes. Our Father had said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” Gen 12:1. The risen Rabbi Yeshua commanded, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8.
Wyschogrod argues that God has a special love for Israel above his love for everyone else. But God does not change Mal 3:6. If he loved his people Israel more before Rabbi Yeshua’s earthly sojourn, he loves them more now. After the Roman Empire’s crucifixion of the Jews, two thousand years without the Temple, and even after the Holocaust, that is a hard saying. Catholics follow Rabbi Kefa: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” Acts 10:34–35.
Wyschogrod disdains the idea that God loves us all equally. “Undifferentiated love, love that is dispensed equally to all, must be love that does not meet the individual in his individuality but sees him as a member of a species, whether that species be the working class, the poor, those created in the image of God, or what not.”48 Catholics, however, see that even a human father may have one son who is strong, another who is wise, and a third who is neither, and still love all his sons as they are with equal intensity. If it is true of finite man, how much more is it true for God’s infinite love. “With God all things are possible” Mt 19:26.
Wyschogrod sees God as afire with passionate love for Israel. If we, God’s image and likeness, are intensely personal, then God must be intensely personal. We see his intense personality in the Scriptures. “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle” Ps 24:8, invites us to a robust personal relationship. Our Father bargained with Abraham Gen 18:24–32, revealed himself to Moses, and sent his Son to redeem his covenant family. Rabbi Yeshua‘s “Father, the hour has come” Jn 17:1–26 prayer revealed his awesomely personal love for us.
Rabbi Soloveichik described a moment during Wyschogrod’s 1966 visit to the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth in Basel. At one point [Barth] said, “You Jews have the promise but not the fulfillment; we Christians have both promise and fulfillment.” Influenced by the banking atmosphere of Basel, [Wyschogrod] replied, “With human promise, one can have the promise but not the fulfillment. But a promise of God is like money in the bank. If we have his promise, we have his fulfillment, and if we do not have the fulfillment we do not have the promise.” There was a period of silence and then [Barth] said, “You know, I never thought of it that way.”49
“The most difficult outstanding issues between Judaism and Christianity are the divinity of Jesus, the Incarnation, the Trinity, three terms which are not quite synonymous but all of which assert that Jesus was not only a human being but also God. Compared to this claim, all other Christian claims, such as Jesus as the Messiah, become secondary at most.… A human being who is also God loses all Jewish legitimacy from the outset. No sharper break with Jewish theological sensibility can be imagined.”50
But Holy Mother Church has never taught, and never will teach, that a man can become God. It is exactly the opposite. God sent his Son to briefly live with us as a man like us in all things but sin. But did the God of Israel have a Son? “Behold, the man has become like one of us” Gen 3:22. If so, did he live eternally with the Father? “When he established the heavens, I was there … when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman” Prov 8:27–30.
Remarkably, Wyschogrod also sees a bridge that unites us:
What unites us is not so much a philosophical or even theological orientation … but the fact that we share the Hebrew Bible. When the Church accepted the Hebrew Bible as part of its scripture, it made a momentous decision. Christians could insist on reading the Hebrew Bible through the lenses of the New Testament and Jews could challenge the validity of such a reading.… The deepest bond between Judaism and Christianity is a common text, the Hebrew Bible. However vehemently we argue about its correct interpretation, sooner or later the text will reassert itself and, as it were, judge among interpretations.… That is why a form of Judaism lives in the Church and the church cannot understand itself without coming to terms with it.51
Rabbi Soloveichik quotes Wyschogrod: “If God continues to love the people of Israel – and it is the faith of Israel that he does – it is because he sees the face of his beloved Abraham in each and every one of his children as a man sees the face of his beloved in the children of his union with his beloved.”52
This remarkable observation leads straight into a reflection that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” Jn 3:16. Rabbi Paul told us, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” Rom 6:3–4. Our Father sees in every baptized soul his beloved Son’s most heroic sacrifice reflected back to him. And what of those who are not baptized? We recall that, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” Gen 1:27. Every human soul has God’s image imprinted on it. God loves us all for reflecting his image back to him.
There is no salvation to be extracted from the Holocaust, no faltering Judaism can be revived by it, no new reason for the continuation of the Jewish people can be found in it. If there is hope after the Holocaust, it is because to those who believe, the voices of the Prophets speak more loudly than did Hitler, and because the divine promise sweeps over the crematoria and silences the voice of Auschwitz.53
But many Jews have sensed that the Holocaust is Biblical in its impact on Jewish history. Consciously or not, many see in it a Crucifixion of the Jews, with the Catholic Church, protecting all she could, recalling Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, with a fourth “[Tanakh:] “like a divine being” Dan 3:25. Perhaps Daniel’s prophesy of a Roman Church together with it reminded them of the Catholic Church, with God’s amazing return of the Land of Israel to his people only three years later.
Hebrew Catholics and the Mitzvot
Dr. Matthew Levering’s book, Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah and Temple, sets up a conversation between Wyschogrod and St. Thomas Aquinas on whether Hebrew Catholics should continue to observe the mitzvot.54 Wyschogrod defends observance first from the Jewish side, “Because you are a Jew, you are obligated to observe the mitzvot (e.g., tefilin [phylacteries] in the morning, kashrut, sabbath, etc.).”55 Then, interestingly, he defends it from the Catholic side, pointing out that the Second Vatican Council affirmed that God’s covenant with Israel “has never been revoked.”56
These precepts [of Mosaic law] can and should be read in light of the prophetic expectation. In this light, the precepts concerning government of Israel, for example, can be seen to be binding for their time but not necessarily binding for the future time in which the covenant with Israel has been extended to the Gentiles as well. To take another example, the precepts concerning sin offerings, which command that each day certain animals be slaughtered ritually to atone for sins, could be recognized as inadequate to express the full perfection of human communion with God.57
Wyschogrod points out that the original Jewish Christians, as depicted in the Book of Acts, continued to observe the mitzvot, or at minimum did not consider doing so mortally sinful.58 He concludes by suggesting that observant Jewish Christians once more be given a place in the Church. If this happened, “a profound clarification of the Church’s attitude to the Hebrew bible and its Jewish roots will have taken place.”59
The early Jewish Christians did continue to observe the mitzvot. Standing alone, it could suggest that the Sacred Tradition called for Hebrew Catholics to observe the mitzvot. But St. Thomas explains that, “The Holy Ghost did not wish the converted Jews to be debarred at once from observing the legal ceremonies,’ since then the Gentiles might assume that the Mosaic Law was on a par with their own idolatrous rites.”60 Levering clarifies, “The situation described in Acts, therefore, constituted a ‘middle period’ that served to emphasize the fundamental unity of the divine law, during the time in which the Gentiles were being brought into the new covenant.”
After the Gentiles had been brought in, St. Thomas argues, Jewish Christians who continued to observe the ceremonies of the Mosaic Law would be in a state of mortal sin—that is, no longer in communion with God—because such observance would constitute a ‘false profession’ of faith in Christ.”61 St. Thomas observes that the Nazarenes and Ebionites, early Christian heretics, are in mortal sin because “while they observe the evangelical sacraments, they are professing that the Incarnation and the other mysteries of Christ have already been perfected; but, when they also observe the sacraments of the Law, they are professing that those mysteries are in the future.”62
Here we need to introduce two important distinctions. First, the Catholic Church has no objection to a Hebrew Catholic observing the mitzvot provided he understands that they are not salvific for him. A Hebrew Catholic may eat kosher because he has done so since childhood and enjoys the memories that kosher cuisine brings back for him. But if he eats kosher because he believes that God requires it for salvation, he has lost confidence in Rabbi Yeshua’s Final Sacrifice.
The second distinction is that a Hebrew Catholic may never witness against Rabbi Yeshua. We sometimes see a Hebrew Catholic wearing the kipa and talit as part of his observance. The kipa, head covering, is a sign of respect for God. It gives the appearance of an Orthodox Jew, a man who does not believe Rabbi Yeshua was God’s Mashiakh.
More important, God ordained the talit, specifically the tzitzit which are an integral part of it, as a sign of our fidelity to God’s commandments in the Torah. “And it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them … So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God” Num 15:39–40. Hebrew Catholics who wear the kipa, and especially the kipa and talit, can complete their witness by wearing a prominent pectoral crucifix.
Parable of the Prodigal Son
Rabbi Yeshua’s Parable of the Prodigal Son Lk 15:11–32 is perhaps the most universal of all his thirty parables. So many of us become prodigal sons during some time in our lives. Yet the parable applies with particular clarity to the Jewish nation.
The man who had two sons is Rabbi Yeshua himself. Many followed him, but the Jewish nation did not follow, and they soon parted ways. The Jewish nation had all the spiritual and financial riches that the Father had given over the centuries, but soon squandered them and became poor, persecuted and driven from place to place. Its spiritual famine, and eventual crucifixion at Auschwitz, transformed the Jewish nation. Perishing with hunger, it would begin its journey home.
Israel was, in fact, the people of the covenant with God, a covenant that it broke many times. Whenever it became aware of its infidelity – and in the history of Israel there was no lack of prophets and others who awakened this awareness-it appealed to mercy. In this regard, the books of the Old Testament give us very many examples. Among the events and texts of greater importance one may recall: the beginning of the history of the Judges, the prayer of Solomon at the inauguration of the Temple, part of the prophetic work of Micah, the consoling assurances given by Isaiah, the cry of the Jews in exile, and the renewal of the covenant after the return from exile.63
At the very beginning of the New Testament, two voices resound in St. Luke’s Gospel in unique harmony concerning the mercy of God, a harmony which forcefully echoes the whole Old Testament tradition. They express the semantic elements linked to the differentiated terminology of the ancient books. Mary, entering the house of Zechariah, magnifies the Lord with all her soul for “his mercy,” which “from generation to generation” is bestowed on those who fear Him. A little later, as she recalls the election of Israel, she proclaims the mercy which He who has chosen her holds “in remembrance” from all time. Afterwards, in the same house, when John the Baptist is born, his father Zechariah blesses the God of Israel and glorifies him for performing the mercy promised to our fathers and for remembering his holy covenant.64
The Holy Father also showed in Dives in Misericordia § 5 how God’s justice and love become visible as mercy, and through the Parable of the Prodigal Son how our sins caused Rabbi Yeshua’s suffering on the Cross.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the term “justice” is not used even once; just as in the original text the term “mercy” is not used either. Nevertheless, the relationship between justice and love, that is manifested as mercy, is inscribed with great exactness in the content of the Gospel parable. It becomes more evident that love is transformed into mercy when it is necessary to go beyond the precise norm of justice-precise and often too narrow. The prodigal son, having wasted the property he received from his father, deserves – after his return – to earn his living by working in his father’s house as a hired servant and possibly, little by little, to build up a certain provision of material goods, though perhaps never as much as the amount he had squandered. This would be demanded by the order of justice, especially as the son had not only squandered the part of the inheritance belonging to him but had also hurt and offended his father by his whole conduct. Since this conduct had in his own eyes deprived him of his dignity as a son, it could not be a matter of indifference to his father. It was bound to make him suffer. It was also bound to implicate him in some way. And yet, after all, it was his own son who was involved, and such a relationship could never be altered or destroyed by any sort of behavior. The prodigal son is aware of this and it is precisely this awareness that shows him clearly the dignity which he has lost and which makes him honestly evaluate the position that he could still expect in his father’s house.65
God clothed himself and Moses together in a talit, and called himself Adonai Elohim el rakhum [Lord God merciful] Ex 34:6. In Rabbi Yeshua‘s parable we hear, “But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” Lk 15:20. Rabbi Yeshua has seen his prodigal sons a long way off, and through his Church after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council has reached out to them. We can envision it in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting The Creation of Adam. All that remains is for his prodigal sons to reach out to him.
Salvation Is from the Jews
Reflecting on Melchizedek we ask, “Did Judaism lead to the Catholic Church? Or did the Catholic Church, existing in a mysterious way since the beginning of time, bless and start Judaism as the beginning of God’s revelation to man?” We are one in salvation history: Jerusalem on High comes for us both Rom 11:15, or not at all.
“Salvation is from the Jews” Jn 4:22 “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” Rom 11:29. Holy Mother Church teaches § 121: “The Old Covenant has never been revoked.” § 674 “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by all Israel.” “For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree” Rom 11:24.
The Church Fathers have taught this since the beginning. “Their sins occasioned the salvation of the Gentiles and again the incredulity of the Gentiles will occasion the conversion of Israel.”66 And, “Seeing the Gentiles abusing little by little their grace, God will recall a second time the Jews.”67
St. Augustine wrote, “In connection with the last judgment, therefore, we who believe can be sure of the following truths … the Jews will believe.”68 And Holy Mother Church teaches today § 674: “The full inclusion of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of the full number of the Gentiles, will enable the People of God to achieve the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, in which God may be all in all.”
The people Israel, the ten tribes who merged into the local populations, have in God’s providence recognized their Mashiakh and become the people of the new Israel. We await the Jews, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Why is Rabbi Yeshua so insistent on waiting for the Judahites? They are his family. They had been his family from the beginning as prodigal sons. “I showed myself their Master” Jer 31:32, in the sense of a husband. He told his betrothed, “But you trusted in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotries on any passer-by. You took some of your garments, and made for yourself gaily decked shrines, and on them played the harlot” Ezek 16:15–16.
Rabbi Yeshua was a Judahite. During his incarnate life with the Judahites, he called himself the bridegroom. The Judahites who followed him were his immediate family. “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” Mt 12:50.
Judahites sat with him at table and ate the first Bread of Life with him Mt 26:26. They are his bikurim, his first-fruits. He who was “first-born from the dead” Col 1:18 wills to have them with him at the wedding feast in heaven. But he can host the wedding feast with them at table only when “his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” Rev 19:7–8.
Catholic Outreach to the Jews
Michael Medved tells us, “For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity.”69 He gives us evidence for the first part of his statement: “In an era of budget plane flights and elegantly organized tours, more than 75 percent of American Jews have never bothered to visit Israel.”70 And he gives us evidence for the second: “What is the one political or religious position that makes a Jew utterly unwelcome in the organized community? We accept atheist Jews, Buddhist Jews, pro-Palestinian Jews, Communist Jews, homosexual Jews, and even sanction Hindu-Jewish meditation societies. ‘Jews for Jesus,’ however, or ‘Messianic Jews’ face resistance and exclusion everywhere.”71
This national Jewish rejection of Rabbi Yeshua is in fact Judaism’s testament to the truth of the Catechism § 674: “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by all Israel.” Jews across the spectrum from Orthodox to Reform, who agree on nothing else, agree on rejection of Christianity.
Just as there has been a national Jewish rejection, so there will one day be a national Jewish acceptance of Rabbi Yeshua as God’s Mashiakh. Rom 11:15. This is the proof that the Church’s rapprochement with the Jews is no man-made decision but part of God’s mighty providence.
Holy Mother Church is becoming much more aware of her Jewish origins. St. John Paul II visited Auschwitz-Birkenau during his first papal visit to his Polish homeland in June 1979, and gave full recognition to the State of Israel on April 20, 1984. his apostolic letter Redemptionis Anno, published the same day, declared (§ 5 L’Osservatore Romano translation):
Before it was the City of Jesus the Redeemer, Jerusalem was the historic site of the biblical revelation of God, the meeting place, as it were, of heaven and earth, in which more than in any other place the word of God was brought to men. Christians honor her with a religious and intent concern because there the words of Christ so often resounded, there the great events of the Redemption were accomplished: the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. In the City of Jerusalem the first Christian community sprang up and remained throughout the centuries of continual ecclesial presence despite difficulties. Jews ardently love her and in every age venerate her memory, abundant as she is in many remains and monuments from the time of David who chose her as the capital, and of Solomon who built the Temple there.
The first pope to visit a synagogue was Rabbi Kefa, who regularly visited the Jewish places of worship. After two thousand years St. John Paul II became the second. He went to Tempio Maggiore di Roma, the Great Synagogue of Rome, on April 13, 1986, accompanied by Rabbi Elio Toaff, then still Chief Rabbi of Rome.72 In the shadow of Rabbi Zolli, St. John Paul II referred to the Jews as “our elder brothers.”73
St. John Paul II wrote to the Jews of Poland on the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1993, “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world (cf. Gen. 12:2 ff.). This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another.”74
Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we overcome evil with good. We remember, but not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible crimes of the past.
God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.
On April 2, 2005, St. John Paul II passed into eternity. Rabbi Toaff, then retired, came to the Vatican’s Clementine Hall to pay his respects as the Jews of Rome filled to overflowing the Tempio Maggiore and the smaller synagogues. Rabbi Toaff was one of the only two living persons mentioned in St. John Paul II‘s will.
There is not much time. On April 24, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, during his Papal Inauguration Mass homily, declared, “With great affection I also greet … my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God’s irrevocable promises.”75 Jewish leaders were again present, also for the first time at a papal inauguration.
On June 9, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which represents the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Israel Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations, Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbinical Council of America, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the World Jewish Congress:
[The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council] affirmed the Church’s conviction that, in the mystery of the divine election, the beginnings of her faith are already to be found in Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. On the basis of this spiritual patrimony and the teaching of the Gospel, it called for greater mutual understanding and esteem between Christians and Jews and deplored all manifestations of hatred, persecution and anti-Semitism. At the very beginning of my Pontificate, I wish to assure you that the Church remains firmly committed, in her catechesis and in every aspect of her life, to implementing this decisive teaching.
In the years following the Council, my predecessors Pope Paul VI and, in a particular way, St. John Paul II, took significant steps towards improving relations with the Jewish people. It is my intention to continue on this path.
Jewish leaders greatly appreciated this visit by a German pope to a German synagogue, and presented him with the shofar.
On August 19, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, four months into his pontificate, went to visit Cologne’s blue-domed Roonstrasse Synagogue, the largest north of the Alps, which had been destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938 and rebuilt during the 1950s. Cologne is the oldest site of a Jewish community on German soil, dating back to the Colonia of Roman times. There Pope Benedict XVI heard the shofar and a choir chanting shalom alekhem, Rabbi Yeshua‘s classic greeting to his shlikhim, “Peace be with you” Jn 20:19, 21, 26. Pope Benedict XVI then reaffirmed his statement to the International Jewish Committee:
The path leads straight to the new and eternal Israel. § 674 “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by all Israel.” On March 15, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, during his regular weekly audience, declared,
The number 12, which evidently refers to the 12 tribes of Israel, reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implied in the new initiative of founding the holy people again. After the downfall of the system of the 12 tribes, Israel awaited the reconstruction of this system as a sign of the arrival of the eschatological time (this can be read in the conclusion of the Book of Ezekiel 37:15–19; 39:23–29; 40–48).
In choosing the twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with him and making them sharers in the same mission of announcing the Kingdom with words and deeds (cf. Mark 6:7–13; Matthew 10:5–8; Luke 9:1–6; 6:13), Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived; the time for rebuilding God’s people, the people of the 12 tribes, which is now converted into a universal people, his Church.
With their very own existence, the Twelve – called from different backgrounds – become an appeal for all of Israel to convert and allow herself to be gathered into the new covenant, complete and perfect fulfilment of the ancient one. The fact that he entrusted to his Apostles, during the Last Supper and before his Passion, the duty to celebrate his Pasch, demonstrates how Jesus wished to transfer to the entire community, in the person of its heads, the mandate to be a sign and instrument in history of the eschatological gathering begun by him. In a certain sense we can say that the Last Supper itself is the act of foundation of the Church, because he gives himself and thus creates a new community, a community united in communion with himself.”76
The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take.
On April 17, 2008, during his April 15-20 visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI met with representatives of the Jewish community at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC to commemorate Passover. There he declared:
My visit to the United States offers me the occasion to extend a warm and heartfelt greeting to my Jewish brothers and sisters in this country and throughout the world. A greeting that is all the more spiritually intense because the great feast of Pesakh is approaching. ‘This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever’ (Exodus 12:14). While the Christian celebration of Easter differs in many ways from your celebration of Pesakh, we understand and experience it in continuation with the biblical narrative of the mighty works which the Lord accomplished for his people.
And on the following day, April 18, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI made a brief visit to Park East Synagogue in New York City, a modern Orthodox synagogue located near the United Nations, led by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor, for Passover. Although his synagogue visit was scheduled well in advance it was designated as personal and informal, not part of his official program, a way of speaking to the Jewish people from his heart. There he greeted Rabbi Schneier and the congregation,
Shalom! It is with joy that I come here, just a few hours before the celebration of your Pesakh, to express my respect and esteem for the Jewish community in New York City.… I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this.… I assure you most especially of my closeness at this time, as you prepare to celebrate the great deeds of the Almighty, and to sing the praises of him who has worked such wonders for his people. I would ask those of you who are present to pass on my greetings and good wishes to all the members of the Jewish community. Blessed be the name of the Lord!77
Rabbi Irving Greenberg, asked how Jews on the ground view Pope Benedict XVI, replied, “There is suspicion, but he has made an effort. More than that. He has made a disproportionate effort to communicate to Jews. I think there’s good will and concern simultaneously.”78
Good will and concern. Catholics understand Jewish concern. Some Jews, still believing that Rabbi Yeshua was “a madman or worse” and that Pope Pius XII was cold and aloof, or unable to face their own silence in that terrifying Dies Irae 7:42 (Day of Wrath) blamed the Church for the Holocaust. But there is also good will. Our awareness of one another, asleep for twenty centuries, has now awakened. Rabbi Yeshua‘s genius in the continuity of salvation history is becoming much more visible. Many Jews saw in Pope Pius XII, St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, the Church transformed from persecutor to protector.
Pope Benedict XVI on May 8-15, 2009 made a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visiting Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. On May 9th he went to the Basilica of the Moses Memorial on Mt. Nebo, in the Jordanian sector. Tradition holds that the Moses Memorial marks the exact place where God showed Moses the land of Israel before he died. As we recall, on a clear day all of ancient Judea, Samaria and Galilee, as far as Jerusalem and the edge of the Mediterranean are visible from there. The “basilica” is the ruin of a triple-apse Byzantine basilica originally built during the sixth century, destroyed by a powerful earthquake in AD 749, and uncovered by archaeologists in the 1930s. The Memorial Church of Moses 3:45 is a simple shelter over the ruin, with simple backless benches for pews. There, fittingly for a mountaintop setting, the Holy Father set it all in perspective:
Moses gazed upon the Promised Land from afar, at the end of his earthly pilgrimage. His example reminds us that we too are part of the ageless pilgrimage of God’s people through history. In the footsteps of the prophets, the apostles and the saints, we are called to walk with the Lord, to carry on his mission, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s universal love and mercy. We are called to welcome the coming of Christ’s Kingdom by our charity, our service to the poor, and our efforts to be a leaven of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace in the world around us. We know that, like Moses, we may not see the complete fulfilment of God’s plan in our lifetime. Yet we trust that, by doing our small part, in fidelity to the vocation each of us has received, we will help to make straight the paths of the Lord and welcome the dawn of his Kingdom.
This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: yad – “memorial”; shem – “name.” I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God.
God of all the ages,
on my visit to Jerusalem, the “City of Peace,”
spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike,
I bring before you the joys, the hopes and the aspirations,
the trials, the suffering and the pain of all your people throughout the world.
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft;
send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family;
stir the hearts of all who call upon your name,
to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion.
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him” (Lam 3:25)!
On May 15, 2009, the Holy Father visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was the last day of his Holy Land pilgrimage, and the Holy Father was thinking about summarizing his message. There, in the place where the crucified Rabbi Yeshua was buried and none among his shlikhim had any hope that he would rise, the Holy Father said,
This is the message that I wish to leave with you today, at the conclusion of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May hope rise up ever anew, by God’s grace, in the hearts of all the people dwelling in these lands! May it take root in your hearts, abide in your families and communities, and inspire in each of you an ever more faithful witness to the Prince of Peace!
Jews have a definitive interest in seeing Benedict XVI’s interpretation of the election of Israel written in stone for the ages. We should welcome the opportunity to befriend this pope, all the more so when he is facing down the enemies of Israel within the Church. We should seek to make common cause with Catholics on the issues that unite us, above all the holiness of life, which is what God first called us to his service to defend.79
On January 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Tempio Maggiore di Roma, making it the first synagogue to be visited by two popes. There, as if in response to David Goldman, he told the congregation:
The teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council has represented for Catholics a clear landmark to which constant reference is made in our attitude and our relations with the Jewish people, marking a new and significant stage. The Council gave a strong impetus to our irrevocable commitment to pursue the path of dialogue, fraternity and friendship, a journey which has been deepened and developed in the last forty years, through important steps and significant gestures.
We may hope that the Holy Father’s reference to the Second Vatican Council and “our irrevocable commitment” will allay the concerns of some Jews that the rapprochement has been merely a private initiative of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI that will soon recede into the mists of memory. In fact, as the Church’s return to her earliest origins, it is irrevocable. During the same address the Holy Father told the congregation,
Our closeness and spiritual fraternity find in the Holy Bible in Hebrew Sifre Kodesh or “Book of Holiness” their most stable and lasting foundation, which constantly reminds us of our common roots, our history and the rich spiritual patrimony that we share.
And he confirmed it by quoting from the Catechism, § 839
The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs and of their race, according to the flesh is the Christ.80
First, he told the congregation,
The Ten Commandments require that we recognize the one Lord, against the temptation to construct other idols, to make golden calves,” adding, “in our world there are many who do not know God or who consider him superfluous” and “other new gods have been fabricated to whom man bows down.
Second, he upheld the sanctity of life.
Bearing witness together to the supreme value of life against all selfishness, is an important contribution to a new world where justice and peace reign, a world marked by that shalom which the lawgivers, the prophets and the sages of Israel longed to see.
Third, he upheld the sanctity of the family.
In which the personal and reciprocal, faithful and definitive Yes of man and woman makes room for the future, for the authentic humanity of each, and makes them open, at the same time, to the gift of new life.
Pope Benedict XVI then said:
As Moses taught in the Shma (cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:34) and as Jesus reaffirms in the Gospel (cf. Mk 12:19–31), all of the Commandments are summed up in the love of God and loving-kindness towards one’s neighbor.” And, “On this path we can walk together, aware of the differences that exist between us, but also aware of the fact that when we succeed in uniting our hearts and our hands in response to the Lord’s call, his light comes closer and shines on all the peoples of the world.
Pope Francis on February 13, 2014, met with Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs. Rabbi Rosen said, “There has never been a Pope with as deep an understanding of Jews as Pope Francis. Of course Pope John Paul II had a unique childhood experience of the Jewish community in Wadowice. But by the time he was a priest, there was little living community left to talk of, so his engagement was not as a developed adult. Francis, on the other hand, has not only nurtured lifelong friendships with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, with whom he has had a vibrant interaction … but has co-authored a book with an Argentinian rabbi, Abraham Skorka, thus addressing issues face to face with Jewish self-understanding and experience. This profoundly shapes his sensitivity and his commitment to the Jewish-Christian relationship.”
Pope Francis on May 24-26, 2014, made an apostolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, spending one day in Jordan and two days in Israel. At Yad Vashem on May 26 he began, “‘Adam, where are you? [cf. Gen 3:9]. Where are you, o man? What have you come to?’ In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more: ‘Adam, where are you?’ This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child.”
Pope Francis on April 20, 2015 met with a delegation of rabbis headed by Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, to discuss the religious freedom of Jews in Europe amid a rise in anti-Semitic violence. Both Pope Francis and Rabbi Goldschmidt mentioned the upcoming 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in October 2015. Rabbi Goldschmidt also quoted from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium which declares § 253, “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!” Rabbi Goldschmidt observed, “I would not be overly dramatic if I would describe that many Jews in Europe feel themselves as Christians in the Middle East.”
Pope Francis on April 27, 2015, met at the Vatican with Riccardo Di Segni, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, on issues arising from immigration to Europe. Rabbi Di Segni is well known for his very cautious attitude toward interreligious dialogue and insistence on mutually recognized limits, but the meeting was cordial.
On January 17, 2016, Pope Francis went to the Tempio Maggiore di Roma, the Great Synagogue of Rome, making it the first synagogue to be visited by three popes! He had a history of good relationships with the Jewish community in Argentina before becoming pope. The Holy Father Addressed the Great Synagogue of Rome.
The Journey Home
The Land of Israel
The land of Israel is important to both Jews and Christians. Cardinal Schönborn, in a 2005 address titled God’s Chosen Land, declared, “Only once in human history did God take a country as an inheritance and give it to his chosen people.”81 He added that St. John Paul II had personally declared the biblical commandment for Jews to live in Israel an everlasting covenant that remains valid today.82 Pope Benedict XVI, highlighting the Christian role, made a similar point. “It is understandable … that sometimes circumstances force Christians to leave their country in search of a welcoming nation that enables them to live a better life. Nonetheless, it is necessary to give firm encouragement and support to those who decide to remain faithful to their land, in order to ensure it does not become an archaeological site without an ecclesial life.”83
God had promised the land of Israel, but it has always been a promise rooted in the covenant. “And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Gen 17:8. And I will be their God! If the people of the Mosaic Covenant worship God alone and keep his commandments, our Father will conquer their enemies as in the days of Joshua and send the rain in its season. But if they chase other gods he will shut the heavens and take the land of Israel from them as in the days of the Assyrian conquest, the first Temple destruction, the Greek conquest, the Roman conquest and the second Temple destruction. The greatest Hebrew prophet, the Blessed Virgin Mary, gives us similar prophecy in our own time:
If my wishes are fulfilled, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, then Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, bringing new wars and persecution of the Church; the good will be martyred and the Holy Father will have much to suffer; certain nations will be annihilated. But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.84
Now, after two thousand years, only three years after the Nazis destroyed Israel-in-Exile, God has restored the land of Israel as the public face of the Jewish nation, implicitly calling the Diaspora, Jews dispersed outside the Holy Land, to make aliyah (Hebrew: “ascend”), to come home to Israel. “And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me”; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son’” Ex 4:22–23. In the Jewish Canon of Sacred Scripture, the very last words are viya’al, “Let him go up” 2 Chron 36:23, from the same alh root as aliyah.
Each year Jews in the Diaspora declare, “Next year in Jerusalem!” We would expect that, if the Mashiakh were coming in the Jewish context, the aliyah would be nearly complete, with great numbers of devout Jews moving from the Diaspora to Israel. But Jews in the Diaspora, as a people, are not making aliyah in the traditional sense. Each year more Jews move from Israel to the United States than from the United States to Israel.85
Moreover, in Israel, during the past half-century, the descendants of Ishmael have gone forth and multiplied while the descendants of Isaac have not. During the 1950s the state of Israel had ten descendants of Isaac for every descendant of Ishmael. Today there are four.86 And Israel is surrounded by Ishmaelites who grow more strong and bold as the years pass. But, in the twenty-first century, as Torah observant Jews in Israel continue to multiply while liberal Jews continue their population decline, Israel is becoming a Torah observant nation. We are watching the forces of good and evil gather for a titanic battle.
The New Israel
We can watch Rabbi Yeshua’s careful preparation of his Church for the ingrafting. At the steeple top, the Jewish nation has seen Nostra Aetate § 4, The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable, and the synagogue visits by St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. At street level, in the pews, it sees the Association of Hebrew Catholics (AHC), begun by the late Father Elias Friedman, O.C.D., a Carmelite priest who lived at Stella Maris Monastery on the slopes of Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel. Father Elias’ classic book, Jewish Identity, and his conversations with David Moss, president of the AHC, set forth his vision of the original people of the Abrahamic election now gathering in the Church.
Rabbi Paul reminds us, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” Col 1:19–20. Thousands of years after the original sin separated our first parents and all their progeny from God, Rabbi Yeshua reconciled the world to himself on the Cross 2 Cor 5:19.
Catechism § 674 reminds us, “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by all Israel.” Two thousand years ago Jews in the streets saw Rabbi Yeshua “full of grace and truth” Jn 1:14 and multitudes followed him. In our time he seeks to reconcile his chosen people inside the Church with those who are still outside. The Association of Hebrew Catholics participates in the ingrafting by working to make visible the presence of the new Israel as in its earliest days, in obedience to his command, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8. May Rabbi Yeshua’s image and likeness draw all men to his sacramental presence.
Jewish tradition tells of the saintly Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi who met the Messiah in a vision and asked when he was going to come. The Messiah said, “Today.” But sundown passed, and the Messiah had not come. The perplexed rabbi told the prophet Elijah, who appeared to him regularly, “The Messiah misled me.” But Elijah replied, “No. He means the Scripture. He would come today if you hearkened to his voice.”
Jews Look for Rabbi Yeshua
Roy Schoeman tells us, “Before 1967, there were only a few thousand Messianic Jews in the U.S., and at most four or five Messianic Jewish synagogues. By the mid-1970s, Time magazine placed the number of Messianic Jews in the U.S. at over 50,000; by 1993 this number had grown to 160,000 in the U.S. and about 350,000 worldwide (1989 estimate). This compares to a total of 5.3 million Jews in the U.S. in 2001, of whom about 420,000 are orthodox (or strictly observant). There are currently over 400 Messianic synagogues worldwide, with at least 150 in the U.S.”87 By 2006, Schoeman cited a figure of 200,000 Messianic Jews in the United States.88 By 2013, a Pew survey, “How many Jews are there in the United States, showed “Jews by religion” as 4.2 million while “Jewish background – Christian” showed 1.6 million.
Rabbi Yeshua told us, “Elijah has already come” Mt 17:12 in the person of Rabbi Yokhanan HaMatbil. We may believe that Rabbi Yeshua’s “two witnesses,” Enoch and Elijah, have come in our time, not in the flesh but in the spirit, teaching that the Old Testament and the New Testament are inseparably bound together as the Book of Life.
First In Messianic Jewish Congregations
“Next year in Jerusalem” can be Jerusalem rebuilt by the Mashiakh, Jerusalem on High. Driven by an emerging sense that Rabbi Yeshua is God’s Mashiakh but held back by a sense that entering the Catholic Church would mean the disappearance of their Jewish national identity, many Jews are joining Messianic Jewish congregations.
Why would the Holy Spirit lead the Jews initially to Messianic Judaism, rather than straight into the Catholic Church? Entry into Messianic Judaism makes a Jew’s “recognition” of God’s Mashiakh visible. The Messianic Jewish congregations consist of Jews who have recognized Rabbi Yeshua as God’s Mashiakh.
By contrast, when a Jew is baptized into the Catholic Church, no central registry records his Jewish origin. His entry into the Catholic Church is real, but invisible to all who are looking for the fulfillment of Rabbi Paul‘s prophecy. Unless he serves as an active witness to his Jewish origins, his entry into the Church does not encourage other Jews who might sense a call but hesitate, chagrined at the thought of losing their lifelong Jewish identity.
Jews Look More Closely
Across the centuries Jews have shown extraordinary intellectual accomplishment. God inspired the Hebrew Scriptures, but the sages’ commentaries showed a remarkable gift for defining the core elements of the sensibility of their time. God also inspired the New Testament; the shlikhim who transmitted his revelation to the world were all Jews. The Talmud counsels, “A man should sell all he possesses to marry the daughter of a scholar, as well as to marry his daughter to a scholar.” During the second half of the twentieth century, Jews constituted 0.2 percent of the world’s population but won 29 percent of the Nobel Prizes in literature, chemistry, physics and medicine. Many Jews who were initially attracted to Messianic Judaism are beginning to look again at the Catholic Church. Particularly in four areas, the Holy Eucharist, Authority, Sacred Tradition, and Theological Depth, the evidence warrants belief:
The Holy Eucharist
Messianic Jews see themselves as spiritual descendants of the first Jewish Christians. Their understanding of Holy Communion is purely symbolic because most congregations go from first century Judaism directly to the 1500s with hardly any recognition of the first three-quarters of Christian history. For this reason, Messianic Judaism has no concept of apostolic succession, which is necessary for a valid consecration.
However, when a Messianic Jew reads his Bible more deeply he is apt to notice strong reasons to believe that it is exactly what Rabbi Yeshua says it is. Let us look at two examples.
Rabbi Yeshua taught us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” Jn 6:53–54. His words for “Truly, truly,” were “Amen, amen.” Rabbi Yokhanan directly transferred them from Hebrew into his original Greek, “Amen, amen.” This Hebrew word amen means “Have faith!” Or “Believe!” Jews, Catholics, and the sola Scriptura faith communities always use this Hebrew and Aramaic word amen as a solemn affirmation of truth.
All the major sola Scriptura faith communities recognize that Rabbi Yeshua used this phrase to emphasize that baptism is necessary for man’s eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” All the major sola Scriptura faith communities accept it. Rabbi Yokhanan quotes Rabbi Yeshua using this phrase, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” 25 times in 25 different verses. All the major sola Scriptura faith communities accept all the others as true. Gnaw on it.
Jews remember that from the time God gave the Oral Law to the time it was written down there was an unbroken line of authoritative interpretation. They see that the Catholic Church too from its earliest origins has had a structure for authoritative interpretation of the inspired Scriptures, with a line of apostolic succession that the Church Fathers affirm has crossed the centuries intact to every Catholic bishop, priest and deacon today.
By contrast, Messianic Judaism only began in the twentieth century. The early congregations called themselves Hebrew Christian, with the adjective Hebrew modifying the noun Christian. Christians with added Jewish identity. During the 1960s, when Christianity came under severe attack, the same congregations began to call themselves Messianic Jews, with the adjective Messianic modifying the noun Jews. Jews with added Christian identity. Many Jews see this uncertain identity and lack of authoritative Scripture interpretation as shifting sand, a weak foundation for their pilgrim journey to the Cross.
Messianic Jewish congregations emphasize sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, as God’s authority for man. But Judaism has never believed in sola Scriptura. Jews know that God gave Moses an Oral Law comparable in authority to the Written Torah. The Oral Law was eventually written down as the Mishna. What would any Orthodox rabbi say today if we left him with his Tanakh, Hebrew Scriptures, but took away his Mishna, his Gemara, his sacred interpretations written by Rashi and Maimonides and Ramban, and his Shulkhan Arukh? He would insist that they are all essential; without them he cannot apply the halakha. Every Orthodox rabbi has a well worn Tanakh, but when asked to give an interpretation turns first to the Shulkhan Arukh.
Jews see that Catholics too have a sacred tradition of oral teaching, from Rabbi Yeshua to his shlikhim to others who taught others. Every Catholic priest has a well worn copy of the Holy Scriptures, but when asked to give an interpretation he turns first to the halakha of the redemption, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other Vatican documents. We receive Rabbi Yeshua whole and entire in the halakha of the Redemption, “I am the Halakha” Jn 14:6.
Messianic Jews who reject the Oral Law stand opposed to Moses who brought it down from God. Messianic Jews who reject Rabbi Paul‘s frequent Scriptural references to the sacred tradition of Christian teaching “either by word of mouth or by letter” 2 Thess 2:15 contradict their non-Scriptural exclusion of the Sacred Tradition of Apostolic Teaching.
The Jewish sages and scholars include Shimon Ha-Tzadik, Rabbi Hillel, Rabbi Shammai, Rabbi Yokhanan ben Zakai, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi, Rashi, Maimonides, Ramban, Radak, Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the Vilna Gaon, and so many more.
The Catholic Church has given rise to such paragons of holiness and theological insight as St. Athanasius, St. Ephraem, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Basil the Great, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Peter Chrysologus, St. Leo the Great, St. Gregory the Great, St. Isidore of Seville, St. John of Damascus, St. Bede the Venerable, St. Peter Damian, St. Anselm, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Peter Canisius, St. John of the Cross, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. John of Ávila, and St. Hildegard of Bingen. These Doctors of the Church come from the West and the East, from the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Jesuits and the Redemptorists. “Only truth can produce these heroes and heroines with their burning love, radiant chastity, overflowing generosity, exquisite patience, all that is lofty and noble.”
Messianic Judaism has not produced a single theologian of comparable stature, widely studied in the great Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant seminaries and universities.
The Jewish Witness
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminds us, “Nor can [the Catholic Church] forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by his cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in himself.”
The Jews are coming home.
Each Jew who comes into the Catholic Church brings his witness. Many live quiet lives, perhaps helping with a parish Seder now and then, mainly there to greet those who come in after them. Some, in the light of the great Jewish tradition of sages across the centuries, write beautiful meditations on Melchizedek, on Moses, on the Psalms, on the Mishna and more, as reflections of the Mashiakh. Devout Catholics from every background will know what Rabbi Kefa and Rabbi Paul knew, and thereby abide more deeply in Rabbi Yeshua that he might abide more deeply in us. “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” Lk 24:44.
Each year, during Advent, Holy Mother Church prays in Aramaic, Maranà thà, “Our Lord, come!” 1 Cor 16:22. We do not know the day or the hour, but we may believe that he is coming soon. And the last book of the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture ends with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Rev 22:20. Amen.