Israel Ambassador Urges Jews to Be More Open

Says Catholic Hand Is Outstretched, Would Be Foolish to Refuse It

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ROME, JAN. 21, 2010 ( Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See says there is an “asymmetry” in Jewish-Christian dialogue: Catholics are pursuing relations but there are not enough representatives of Judaism committed to the cause.

Mordechay Lewy has taken up a call to Israelis to be more open to dialogue with Christians.

He has expressed his invitation in columns in the January and February issues of the Italian Jewish monthly magazine “Pagine Ebraiche,” and his ideas have been echoed in L’Osservatore Romano.

The Israeli diplomat laments that “few are the representatives of Judaism really involved in dialogue with Catholics,” and he admits that there is an “asymmetry” in this dialogue.
Despite the fact that his government is in favor of “continual dialogue at the highest official levels, between the Central Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See, there continues to be skepticism on the part of the main current of the orthodox,” Lewy explained.

This hesitation, the ambassador noted, is greater after the Shoa: “Jewish orthodoxy, previously pluralistic in its relation with Christians, after the Shoa has become less flexible, to say the least,” especially the current of the ultra-orthodox Haredim, which prohibits meetings with priests.
At present, Lewy explained, “reformed and conservative Judaism are more open to dialogue with Christians. They do this from the point of view of their American experience, where coexistence between ethnic and religious groups is intrinsic to society.”
Also that dialogue, he suggested, headed by Rabbi Joseph Soloweitchik, did not intend to argue on principles of faith, although at least “it did not refuse a dialogue on questions that might improve the common good of social coexistence,” on subjects such as bioethics, ecology, violence, etc.


Lewy said the hesitation that many Jews feel is explained by a sense that they are self-sufficient in regard to their religious identity.

“We don’t need any other theological reference, but the Bible, to explain our closeness to God as his favorite sons,” he said.
This happens, Lewy proposed, because of the Jews’ mechanism of self-defense in the course of history, having to live in hostile environments — although their relation with Christians has not always been like this.
Moreover, he continued, “the majority of Jews perceive their history during the Diaspora as a traumatic battle for survival against constant efforts, on the part of Catholics, to convert them kindly or, in the majority of cases, by force.”

But this “grave and painful” wound must be overcome, the diplomat asserted, and there is a need to “know the other side so as to understand it better.”
“It could be that many of us, still traumatized, want to avoid any situation in which someone must be forgiven, especially if identified, justly or erroneously, as a representative of the executioner,” he reflected.
In this connection, quoting several Jewish experts of all times, Lewy noted that Judaism “is based on recognition of the unity of the human race, of adherence to moral principles and truth, which reign over every man, regardless of race or religion.”
He mentioned the teachings of Medieval rabbinical sources, especially Maimonides, affirming that “they showed respect for other religions.”
The diplomat insisted on the need to accept dialogue with Catholics, in the line of present modern orthodoxy, one of whose representatives is Rabbi David Rosen.
“Forty years of Judeo-Catholic dialogue in the wake of ‘Nostra Aetate’ have been a period of trial and of reciprocal errors,” he suggested. And now a dynamism has developed.
“After the Shoa, the Catholic Church initiated in the 60s a radical change in regard to Jews,” Lewy said. “Conversion has been relegated to a distant and unknown eschatological horizon.”
“Judaism’s capacity for survival is guaranteed since the foundation of the Jewish State,” the diplomat added, saying this manifests the need to overcome an attitude of self-defense.
“Catholics hold out their hand to us. It would be foolish not to grasp it, unless we want to mortgage our future with constant animosity toward the Catholic world,” he said. “The first two thousand years do not legitimize a repetition. We both deserve something better.”

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