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What dialogue looks like: Jewish-Christian relations

08/26/2015

Leading up to the October anniversary of the historic document Nostra Aetate, the Prairie Messenger is featuring “capsule biographies,” which are also posted on the “Catholic-Jewish Relations” section of the Scarboro Interfaith website (http://www.scarboromissions.ca/JC_Relations/dialogue_partners.php). By October there will have been featured material on numerous individuals — Jews and Christians, men and women — who have played key roles in drafting the conciliar declaration, or who have led local, national or international efforts to put Nostra Aetate’s vision into practice, through various forms of dialogue, action and scholarship. This is the sixth in the series.

Rev. Dr. John T. Pawlikowski, OSM

It is hard to find an English-language book on Jewish-Christian relations written in the last 30 years that does not either reference, or include a contribution from, Servite Father John Pawlikowski. A native of Chicago, born in 1940, Pawlikowski is one of the most prolific and respected contemporary writers and speakers on the Holocaust, and on the dramatic change in Christian attitudes toward Jews in the decades since the Second World War. His published work includes dozens of books and hundreds of lectures and scholarly articles. Much of Pawlikowski’s time as a university student coincided with Vatican II, and much of his energy in the years since has been dedicated to unpacking, teaching and furthering the Council’s vision regarding inter-religious dialogue. An early student of John Dominic Crossan (a leading scholar of the historical Jesus and early Christianity, who was a Servite priest at the time), Pawlikowski attributes much of his passion for Jewish-Christian dialogue to Crossan’s teaching back in the 1960s:

“In his courses at the Servite theologate, Crossan instilled in me a tremendous respect and an appreciation for Sacred Scripture and an interest in the long history of Christian anti-Semitism, which he saw as rooted in New Testament interpretation. Crossan delivered one of the earliest lectures on anti-Semitism and the New Testament in light of Nostra Aetate at a public series on the Second Vatican Council held at Chicago’s Loyola University . . . I was in the audience that evening as a proud student.”

And yet Pawlikowski would later come to realize that some aspects of Crossan’s biblical interpretation remained troublingly mired in earlier approaches, which exalted Christianity at the expense of Judaism: “It became apparent to me how deep-seated and yet subtle anti-Semitism remains in Christian self-understanding so that even those who staunchly oppose its outer manifestations sometimes remain unaware of its subtle dimensions. . . . Without his encouragement in the midst of the new spirit of the Vatican Council, I doubt I would have ever made Christian-Jewish relations such a central part of my academic and ministerial career.”

Ordained a priest of the Servite Order in 1967, John Pawlikowski joined the faculty of Catholic Theological Union in 1968, where today he is professor of social ethics, the director of its Cardinal Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry, and of its Catholic-Jewish Studies program. For more than four decades, he has been a leader in Jewish-Christian dialogue on the local, national and international levels, serving as a consultant to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Advisory Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations, to the National Council of Churches, and serving several times on official Vatican delegations to international Jewish-Catholic dialogues. In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter appointed him as a founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, an appointment that was renewed by presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Pawlikowski continues to play a leading role in the Holocaust Memorial’s educational and interfaith outreach work.

In 1961, Sister Rose Thering, OP, had received her doctorate for a dissertation on the treatment of Jews and Judaism in Catholic religious textbooks. Two of her colleagues had undertaken similar studies in social studies and literature textbooks. Thering felt, however, that her findings would only be considered credible if published by a priest, and she suggested Pawlikowski for the role. His 1973 book, Catechetics and Prejudice: How Catholic Teaching Materials View Jews, Protestants and Racial Minorities (Paulist Press), synthesized those studies’ key findings, and shared them with a wider audience. As Thering herself later admitted: “He gives me credit in the book. However, it’s a priest who’s telling it, which at that time was acceptable . . . the findings had to come out.”

In the year 2000, Pawlikowski was elected as a vice-president of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) and he served as the ICCJ’s president from 2002 to 2008; in 2014 the ICCJ named him one of its honorary presidents in recognition of his outstanding contributions to promoting positive relations between the Jewish and Christian communities. His work was further honoured by his peers with the conferral of the Catholic Theological Society’s 2014 John Courtney Murray Award, and with an honorary doctorate from Australian Catholic University. Pawlikowski maintains a demanding schedule of teaching and lecturing worldwide, challenging his listeners to put contemporary church teaching about Jews and Judaism into practice, and exploring new and promising avenues of theological reflection and social engagement.

Natân André Chouraqui (1917-2007)

One of the principal architects of the modern Jewish-Christian friendship in the French-speaking world and in Israel, André Chouraqui is not as well-known today as his many contributions and achievements would seem to warrant. Chouraqui was born on August 11, 1917, in Algeria, into a devout and distinguished Sephardic Jewish family which had fled to North Africa just prior to the expulsion of Spain’s Jews in the late 15th century. Raised in a multi-religious (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) environment, he developed a curiosity about other religions (and an openness to them) from a very early age, which his family encouraged.

Having largely abandoned his religious practice during his years studying in secular French schools, it was the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, and their undisguised threats against Europe’s Jews, that led Chouraqui to devote himself to a rediscovery of his Jewish identity through studies at France’s rabbinic seminary in Paris, until it was shut down by the Nazis. He spent the remainder of the war years in the French Underground, where he was struck by the fact that religious affiliation was apparently not a consideration to most of his comrades. After the war, disillusioned and stunned by the devastation of the Holocaust, he immediately began to work with other like-minded individuals in France (such as the French Jewish historian and interfaith pioneer Jules Isaac), to find ways to address anti-Jewish attitudes through education and friendship, to ensure that such atrocities would never again be possible. In 1958, he and his wife Annette settled in Israel, where he promptly became involved in the young country’s political and social life, first in the cabinet of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, and later as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem for six years under Teddy Kollek, during which he was respected as a bridge-builder between Jerusalem’s cultural, linguistic and religious groups.

A good friend of many Christian religious figures, Chouraqui was personally present in Rome in September 1965 when Nostra Aetate was approved by the bishops at Vatican II. When he retired from politics in 1973, Chouraqui decided to dedicate himself to a long-standing dream of his: to translate the Bible into a new French version that would, he hoped, capture more of its literary and linguistic richness, but in a less “traditional” manner. His new translation, called simply La Bible Chouraqui, was dramatically different from previous translations, and immediately caught the imagination of many readers in the francophone world, for its rugged and unorthodox renderings, but also for the fact that he, an Israeli Jew, had chosen to translate, not merely the text of the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament), but also the Greek New Testament. It was, he said, his attempt to highlight the Jewish context and content of the Christian Scriptures, their profound connectedness to Judaism, and the Jewishness of Jesus and the early church.

In the 40 years since its initial publication, Chouraqui’s distinctive version has attracted both admirers and detractors, and earned him a number of awards and honorary doctorates. His translation (which he continued to improve and revise almost until his death in 2007) was eventually followed by a French translation of the Quran in 1990, making him probably the only person in history to have singlehandedly translated the holy books of the three Abrahamic religions — and giving him a unique insight into what they shared in common.

André Chouraqui was a tireless, vocal and articulate advocate of Jewish-Christian friendship and dialogue, and travelled widely, lecturing on that relationship and encouraging groups dedicated to building inter-religious bridges. In the late 1970s, he (as an Arabic-speaking Israeli) worked behind the scenes to lay the foundations for the eventual Camp David peace accords between Israel and its southern neighbour, Egypt, and he was a ceaseless proponent of efforts to build peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. He met with politicians and religious leaders of all types, sharing with them a lifetime of inter-religious engagement and leadership, which he also distilled into three autobiographical books, and close to 30 other volumes on various historical, political and theological topics.

After several years of declining health, Chouraqui died in Jerusalem on July 9, 2007, and he was eulogized by a broad spectrum of Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends and colleagues (including Shimon Peres) and then-prime minister of France Nicolas Sarkozy, who praised Chouraqui’s many intellectual and interfaith accomplishments. Even eight years after his death, Chouraqui’s work continues to inspire a new generation of scholars and inter-religious activists, who look to his ground-breaking work as a model of how passionate commitment, learning and personal warmth can make possible great strides in the work he was so dedicated to — a work that is by no means finished.