Jewish-Catholic dialogue discusses sources of authority

The National Council of Synagogues and the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs have met to discuss “Sources of Authority in Catholicism and Judaism.”

The semi-annual consultation took place in New York City on May 17, the USCCB says. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Chairman of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Rabbi Alvin Berkun of Pittsburgh, Chairman of the National Council of Synagogues, presided.

Father James Massa, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, spoke on the “sources of authority” in the Catholic theological tradition. He noted both similarities and differences between Catholic and Jewish ways to interpret sacred texts and pass on religious beliefs and practices.

“One of the obvious differences between our two faith communities is that while no one rabbi or religious body can speak for all Jews, the Church has a ‘Magisterium’ made of bishops in communion with the pope, whose interpretation and application of the word of God can be binding on all Catholic believers,” Father Massa said.

His presentation highlighted the levels of authoritative teaching in the Church, to which are owed corresponding degrees of assent. Father Massa noted that some teachings on Jews and Judaism found in Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, reaches the level of dogma or defined doctrine. “One cannot hold to the charge that the Jewish people, either in the first century or at any other time, are responsible for the death of Jesus (the so-called charge of deicide) without falling out of communion with the Catholic Church. It contradicts both Vatican II (1962-1965) and the Council of Trent (1548-1563), not to mention a proper reading of the New Testament,” Father Massa stated.

Father Massa suggested that when Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI affirmed that for Catholics the Jewish covenant remains a living and positive reality today, they were not speaking on the same level as an ecumenical council like Vatican II. “However, their teaching reflects the deeper impulses of the council, which were directed at laying to rest the teaching of contempt (that God had rejected the Jewish people) and at putting Jewish-Catholic relations on a new course of friendship and shared commitment to healing the world. Such authentic teaching could achieve—God willing—an even more authoritative and solemn expression by some future pope or council,” he noted.

Rabbi Avram Reisner, professor of ethics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, presented on sources of religious authority in Judaism. “Everything begins with the Torah, viewed as the revealed word of God,” Reisner said. When it comes to normative religious practice, the interpretations of prophets, sages, and rabbis whose judgments gave rise to the Mishnah (2nd century C.E.), and later the Talmud (completed in the 7th century C.E.), would be decisive in mediating the word to subsequent generations, he said.

At only one point in Jewish history did Judaism ever have a body of authoritative teachers that approximates what Catholics mean by a Magisterium. Reisner pointed out that this was the period of the Sanhedrin (200 B.C.E.—70 C.E), the Pharisaical council that ruled on matters of the Torah from Jerusalem. “Is it any coincidence that the Christian community emerges from Judaism precisely at the time when such a body of authoritative teachers is in place for the parent religion?” Reisner asked.

The group also discussed recent uprisings in the Middle East. Members expressed concern for the large Christian minorities in Egypt and Syria, where the situation is volatile. Regime change in many of these countries poses particular challenges for Israeli security and peace efforts with Palestinians, they noted.

The beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1 was acknowledged as a cause for celebration for both Catholics and Jews. The late pope made extraordinary gestures of friendship, culminating in the historic visit to the Wall in Jerusalem where he asked pardon of God for past sins committed by Catholics against Jews.

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Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Examine Sources of Authority, Beatification of John Paul II, Middle East Uprisings (USCCB)

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http://pjc.georgetown.edu/events/lectureship/