Offering a review of this text is a humbling and somewhat redundant enterprise for the book, itself, contains forwards from Walter Cardinal Kasper, Karl Cardinal Lehmann and Hanspeter Heinz, as well as a concluding section offering responses to the documents presented in the compendium from the likes of Mary C. Boys, John T. Pawlikowski, Michael Signer, and others. These experts proffer their own reviews as they assess the strengths and weaknesses of the body of work produced by the “Jews and Christians” Discussion Group of the Central Committee of German Catholics over the past 36 years contained in the text. Hence, rather than asses the specifically theological contributions of the “Jews and Christians” corpus, I will offer a more practical consideration of the work of the Discussion Group as pedagogical tools for introducing others to the profound developments within the Catholic-Jewish dialogue since the revolutionary teachings of Nostra Aetate promulgated at the Second Vatican Council.
The compendium text proffers 8 documents produced by the Discussion Group since 1979: Important Theological Issues for Jewish-Christian Dialogue (1979); After Fifty Years: How Can We Talk about Guilt, Suffering, and Reconciliation (1988); Convent and Cross in Auschwitz? (1990); Jews and Judaism in the New Catechism of the Catholic Church—An Intervention (1996); Reflections on the Shoah: The Catholic Church’s Share of the Blame and Responsibility (1998); A Journey to the Holy Land (1998); Pope Pius IX and the Jews (2000); Jews and Christians in Germany: Responsibility in Today’s Pluralistic Society (2005). Each and all of the documents lend themselves well to illuminating the central developments in Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue over the past 30 years via assessing the past nature of the inter-relationship between the two traditions, the current landscape of the dialogue, and potential future trajectories. Such assessment is conducted with candor as the documents reveal the need of every Christian to contextualize and understand their faith vis-ŕ-vis the election of Israel and the continued legitimacy of Judaism’s covenantal relationship with the Divine; recognize Christianity’s role in perpetuating anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution throughout history, and the correlate need for forgiveness; to avoid proselytization and seek greater mutual understanding between the traditions. The Concluding sections of After 50 Years, in particular, summarize these points succinctly and with clarity (See pp.34-40).
The documents Jews and Judaism in the New Catechism and Reflections on the Shoah could serve as excellent springboards for discussion considering both the advances and the shortcomings in Jewish-Christian relations in recent decades, for they both affirm positive developments, and are critical of developments which fall short. For example, the spiritual bonds and shared Scripture which exist between the two traditions are noted and affirmed, as are the inadequacies in attempts to explain and clarify these commonalities. Additionally, the documents vehemently call for Christians to remember the Shoah and to consider Christian guilt (past deeds as well as modern anti-Semitism) connected to the atrocity, yet also point out the inadequacies in and ambivalence of the Church in its efforts to explicate institutional/collective responsibility for such matters.
Perhaps most useful for introducing persons to the nature of and complexities associated with “trialogue” between the three great monotheistic faiths of the Book is the document A Journey to the Holy Land. This document lays out the modern evolution of the Israeli State, its demographics and the interrelationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam against the backdrop of the respective historical understandings of the reality of the Holy Land within each tradition. Contemporary conflicts as well as contemporary ecumenical initiatives are also described. This document could serve as an excellent pedagogical instrument.
The compendium’s treatment of the Discussion Group’s work concludes with the document Responsibility in a Pluralistic Society. Although authored with an eye toward the German experience, it provides a hope-filled assessment of the state of inter-faith dialogue by profiling the seminal teachings, actions and examples of the late John Paul II. The irrevocable nature of the ecumenical cause is accentuated, as are, yet again, the fundamental guiding principles for interfaith dialogue as outlined by the Roman Catholic Magisterium in recent decades and in the work of leading contemporary Jewish theological scholars. One is left with the understanding that “the historical turning point of the Second Vatican Council can never be reversed” (p.130) and acknowledgement of the fact that “Christian-Jewish dialogue is not at the periphery but at the center of Christian identity” (p. 131).
In sum, the documentary heritage of the German “Jews and Christians” Discussion Group inspires an ongoing search for more vital and meaningful ways to continue inter-faith dialogue and foster greater mutual understanding, i.e., inspires Jews and Christians to be a blessing to one another.