Jewish understandings of the New Testament

Great strides have been achieved in Jewish-Catholic dialogue since the Second Vatican Council.

In May two different Catholic-Jewish dialogue groups met to discuss topics ranging from economics, education and religious freedom to the Jewish understandings of the New Testament. The semi-annual consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/National Council of Synagogues (USCCB/NCS) met and discussed Amy Jill Levine and Mark Zvi Brettler’s book, “The Jewish Annotated New Testament.” Their meeting took place in New York City with Auxiliary Bishop Dennis Madden of Baltimore and Rabbi David Straus of the Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnwood, Pa., co-chairing the meeting. A local friend, Rabbi Lewis Eron, a member of our Catholic-Jewish Commission here in South Jersey, is a member of the USCCB/NCS.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York, president of the USCCB, welcomed all to the meeting and spoke of the importance of the work of the various dialogues throughout the country and the particular importance of dialogue between the USCCB and the National Council of Synagogues. Bishop Madden, who is also chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, explained that “The publication of Levine’s and Brettler’s comprehensive work on the New Testament represents an important milestone in Catholic-Jewish relations. Never before has a group of Jewish scholars made so learned and technical a reading of the New Testament. Clearly, this new effort reflects the progress we have made since the Second Vatican Council in mutual respect for each other’s Sacred Scriptures.”

At the meeting Professor Levine of Vanderbilt University presented the major thoughts of her work, co-edited with Professor Brettler of Brandeis University, while Jesuit Father John Donahue of Loyola University offered the Catholic response. Professor Levine shared that it is important for Jews to study the New Testament so that they may gain a respect for Christian beliefs, as Christians should study the Hebrew Scriptures to gain that same respect for their Jewish neighbors.

Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, said, “This important volume is testimony not only to the enormous competence of its editors and authors, but to the spirit of dialogue that can allow Jews to read and appreciate the Jewish context of Christian Scriptures.”

Other topics of discussion centered on such issues as to the progress of the implementation of the practical aspects of the Vatican-Israeli Accord. An update was given on the Vatican’s efforts at reconciliation with the breakaway traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, especially discussion surrounding the Second Vatican Council’s teachings concerning ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and religious freedom. They also made plans to meet again in October to possibly discuss the role of religion in the public square.

The other meeting that took place in May was between the USCCB and the Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America/Rabbinical Council of America to discuss global economics, religious education, religious freedom and the State of Israel. Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, and Rabbi David Berger of Yeshiva University co-chaired the meeting.

They discussed the need for a just economic order based upon their religious perspective of financial reform. They reviewed the recent document produced by the Bilateral Commission Meeting of the Delegations for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See’s Commission for Relations with the Jews, which took place at the Vatican in March. Both traditions underscored the need for the moral leadership of religious groups to shed light on ethical considerations in economic systems, their failures and possible reforms.

James Cultrara, director of education for the New York Catholic Conference and Michael Cohen, New York State political director for the (Jewish) Orthodox Union, updated the group on the funding of religious schools in the state of New York, a topic of shared concerns for both communities. In fact an issue facing all our communities! “There is a tuition crisis in both our communities,” Cohen told the group. “The escalating cost of tuition, in some communities it has doubled within six or seven years. We need to find the solution that works.” How true! With Catholics and Jews growing closer though our various dialogues, commissions and institutes we can help reform a nation.

Father Joseph D. Wallace is coordinator, Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.

Categories: That All May Be One

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