U.S. Rabbi Hopes Jews Reciprocate for Catholic Overtures

Jack Bemporad Is Director of Center of Interreligious Understanding

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ROME, DEC. 20, 2002 (Zenit.org).- An American rabbi congratulated the Catholic Church for its steps to come closer to the Jewish people, and lamented that there has not been a similar effort by the Jews.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding of Englewood, New Jersey, pointed to the 2001 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission entitled “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.”

Rabbi Bemporad participated in a conference last week at the invitation of the Christian-Jewish Documentation and Information Service, at the Pro Unione Roman center of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. He called the pontifical document “courageous and stimulating, and a great step forward in understanding between Christians and Jews.”

“What is lacking is a Jewish text that thanks the Catholic Church for its position,” he said. In this connection, the rabbi lamented that Judaism has not issued any official text comparable to the Second Vatican Council’s declaration “Nostra Aetate, 1998’s “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” or so many other official Catholic texts on the Jewish question.

According to Rabbi Bemporad, the declaration “Dabru Emet,” the document often presented as a response of the Jews to Catholic affirmations, “is not an official document.”

“I myself could not sign it because I am in disagreement on fundamental points,” he said.

The rabbi offered a Jewish response to the document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which begins with a prologue by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in which the Vatican official explains that this text “may offer important help for renewed understanding between Christian and Jews.”

Although the Reformed rabbi said he was pleased with the text, he admitted he disagreed with two aspects: First, what he deemed ignorance of the rabbinical interpretation of the biblical texts; second, the use of the Qumran texts.

For Rabbi Bemporad, “to use these Dead Sea texts, of which I am personally skeptic, and reject the rabbinical interpretation endorsed by Judaism is like approaching Christianity while forgetting the Gospels and using instead apocryphal texts like the Gospel of Thomas, not recognized canonically.”

Lastly, the rabbi acknowledged that there is a lack of knowledge of Jesus and of Christianity in general among Jews. However, in the Reformed rabbinical schools, such as New York’s Hebrew College, Christianity is studied. He himself, who has been a professor at this center, is an enthusiast of Jesus’ parables, which he described as “marvelous.”

Father James Puglisi, director of the Pro Unione Center, said that Rabbi Bemporad is a leading U.S. contributor to Judeo-Christian relations.

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