Last week I guided a group of Catholic priests from South America. During the week we visited both Jewish and Christian holy sites, held theological and philosophical conversations and took part in religious rituals of both religions. The group arrived to Israel as an initiative of the following Jewish organizations: The World Jewish Diplomatic Corp( WJDC), The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperating (CJCUC) and The Latin American Jewish Association (LAJC)
The tour was not of missionary nature; it was intended to create a Jewish-Christian dialogue, in order to bring the believers of the two religions together for their welfare and for the welfare of the entire world.
More about this initiative:
Since the appearance of Christianity, some 2000 years ago, the relations between Jews and Christians has been hostile and antagonistic. The underlying reasons are theological, political and ritual. Nevertheless. the ‘snow ball’ effect – which made sure that despite the changing conditions, the mutual hate, prejudice, and lack of acquaintance did not enable the development of understanding and closer relations also played a role.
Today, in the third millennium, the conditions have greatly changed , and in my opinion they permit, maybe for the first time, a real change of attitude. Two of the main factors of the changing conditions are:
First, a great change that occurred within the Catholic world itself, a change that was manifested in the Declaration read by Pope Paul VI in October 1965, as a summary of the Second Vatican Council, better known as Nostra Aetate, (‘In our Age’). The document is composed of a few different sections, the main ones calling not to discriminate against any person or people on the basis of colour, race, religion or social class. It continues and states the willingness of the Catholic Church to accept some truths present in other religions. It states that the Jews are not to be held guilty of the death of Jesus and decries all expressions of Antisemitism. The full declaration in English:
Second the geopolitical changes, among them the rise of Islamic fundamentalism which poses a threat to the western world, including Christians and Jews, as a unified enemy. Those changes and others place both religions at a point where they face the same threats, and make collaboration and coming close together their common interest.
Facing the change of the basic conditions, I feel the need to make an active move, to deal with prejudice on both sides, in order to destroy the ‘snow ball’ and enable a real dialogue and real closeness.
During the conversations with the priests, a few interesting points came up. One was when we were standing next to the Wailing Wall: I explained the significance of the place for the Jewish people throughout history and the religious and political complexity having to do with the conquest of the Holy Land by the Muslims in the 7th century and the construction of the Muslim monuments (The Golden Dome and El Akza Mosque). After I finished my explanation I was quite surprised to hear that they ‘feel our pain’ for the destruction of the Temple and for the fact that for the last 2000 years the Jewish people have been without their Temple! Those were not empty word. A few minutes later, just before entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – one of the most holy places for Christians if not the holiest – one of the priests told me that he experienced an ambivalent sensation: on the one hand ‘his heart is full with emotion’ while on the other ‘he is full of sadness because His firstborn brothers (the Jews) can not access their holy place’.
Both Christians and Jews believe in the Bible. The term is the same but it actually refers to two different things: when a Christian refers to the Bible, he refers to both the New Testament and the Old one, which is somewhat parallel to the Hebrew Bible – The Tanakh. Even though the Old Testament is almost identical to the Hebrew Bible, no Jew would ever use the Christian term. Words can be very powerful. They reflect the world we live in, but more than just describing reality, they also form a new one! This is why the decision I reached with the priests is so important: we decided that from now on we would name the ‘Old Testament’ the ‘Shared Testament’. For the last 2000 years we have been emphasizing the
differences between both religion, maybe now, in the third millennium, time has finally come to look at what we have in common, a point of view that will help annihilate the ‘snow ball’ and permit us to ‘walk together’ as should be in ‘our times’!
Ofir Jacobson has a Master’s degree in Land of Israel Studies, thesis in Comparative religion, Tourist guide & lecturer. To connect with him go to: http://www.ofirjacobson.com/ or firstname.lastname@example.org