Whether I know the Epistle to the Hebrews?In 1998 the Roman Commision for Religious Relations with the Jews issued a document under the heading “We Remember: Reflection on the Shoah”. This document inspired a two-day conference at Pannonhalma Abbey in November 1998. The conference, entitled “Hungarian Reflections on the Shoah”, was arranged by the Hungarian Benedictines in conjunction with a number of other institutions. Theologians, philosophers, historians, educationalists, writers, and representatives of various denominations were among the participants.
Of course I do and it knows me, too, I believe.
Thus the subject of the debate was safely deposited in underground shelters.
Its most substantial claim, which, one can safely guess, was a condition
of its publication, is that “one has to realize the difference between
anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism”; against this the only criticism that could
be levelled was moral and theological. “The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly
modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christiantity...”.
The connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism is thus reduced to
an unfortunate historical coincidence, that is, many Christians were
helpless against anti-Semitism through inherited anti-Jewish prejudices,
but this connection was purely accidental and sporadic. The document, and
its defenders at the conference following suite, accepted without much
ado the claim of Karl Rahner that the concept of “neo-paganism” is theologically
uninterpretable. In consequence, the term was used more or less as a term
of horror, roughly as alien in a B-rated movie. The historical explanation
of the term is illustrative: it’s external, coming from somewhere outside.
All this could be interpreted as simple-minded apology if it were not backed by the common conviction of the ordinary Christian believer that the targets of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism are not the same. In this view the Biblical people of Israel is not identical to the Jews of the day. Jews believe in this identity, for they consider their exegesis legitimate—and this is the essence of their impertinent “stubbornness”. A modern, tolerant Church acknowledges this forgivingly, but at the same time is fully aware that it is the Church that is the true heir of the people of Israel. The Christian theological mind—with a few notable exceptions—has apparently been left unaware to this day of the fact that it was nobody else but God’s chosen people who were almost wiped out right in the heart of Christendom. If this fact could be turned into Scriptures, Marcion would be vindicated and the Christian theologians would desert this “Old Testament” at breakneck speed.
What makes the problem so convoluted today is that, in a strictly non-theological way of speaking, Church figures and documents state that the correct interpretation of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is that the Covenant between God and Israel persists side by side with Christianity. At the same time, however, this statement is not joined either with an acquintance with Jewish scriptural exegesis, although these are documents of parallel persistence to the Covenant, or by a theological reinterpretation of the Church herself. Even the acknowledgement of the following simple argument is clearly beyond the possibilities of contemporary Christian theology: if the Covenant between God and Israel continues now and forever, then it can only lead to the conclusion that for the redemption of Israel as a collective the Redeemer of the Christians is not needed. For this proposition and for the justification of it not less is required but a substantial theological renewal.
It should also be stated, and not just for the sake of being fair, that
Jewish theology, on its part, in Hungary at least, is not at this time
capable of making a response to the theological challenge of the Shoah
any deeper than describing it as the product of Christian anti-Jewish hatred
and of human wickedness. There was not even mention of those few, such
as Hans Jonas, Emil Fackenheim, and others, who have tried to weigh up
the situation of the Jewish faith in the post-Holocaust era over and above
analyses of internal Christian problems. It is as if the remark of writer
Péter Esterházy that the events “which changed the image
of the human nature forever” have left untouched the common perceptions
of Judaism and Christianity, like man’s being created to God’s “image and
likeness” and, e.g., the halachic interpretation of the Dispersal. If the
Christian participants of the conference had addressed, theologically,
the Jews—which they did not—they would have talked to Jews in contumaciam,
Every Jewish–Christian dialogue so far seems to have carefully avoided addressing theological questions, the questions where they could address each other, that is, the problems of their possible objective relationship. In the first place, they do not dare to exploit those existing theological problems which would very likely yield the objective recognition of the other’s right to exist, in which there would not be intellectually or spiritually diminishing relations of opposition or even confrontation. What I have in mind here is nothing less than the division of the Christian Bible into an Old and a New Testament. Thus, if it can be shown theologically that the relationship to God of the people of Israel does not demand a “new” Covenant, then the New Testament—being solely Christian—is in no way “new”, since they were not the Chosen of the Old Testament. For them, the Covenant described as new is the first and it is with its help, or through it, that they have access to the old. The exclusive expropriation of the Jewish biblical tradition, and their exclusion from the story of redemption is not changed by an iota through the constant repetition of the opposite, even when stated with the best of intentions. What has to be done is to insert theological theorems, which will act as blocks to anti-Jewish ideas. The old structures are not capable of this, not even with a good dose of remorse. At least the highest minded representatives of the Church must recognize that it is the intact old theological structures concerning the Jews that creates the impression of the absence of a sense of guilt in the outsider. Good intentions do not make theology.
It would be important to reconsider the Christian decision, taken two thousand years ago, to side with the pagan empire against the chosen people in the decisive conflict between Rome and Israel. This eschatological Schadenfreude cannot be ended if the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews are neutralized as events in secular history,—provided it is seriously entertained that the Covenant between God and Israel is still valid.
Jews, too, have to draw both the halachic and the theological consequences from the fact of their being swept back into history. In other words, it will have to be decided whether the modern Jewish state is primarily a refuge or the restoration of the Israel of yore. To put it plainly: what is the status of the Diaspora in terms of the Jewish faith?
Finally, what should be the aim of welcome meetings of this kind? The admitted purpose of Jewish-Christian relations is to bring about mutual propitiation and reconciliation. Dialogue is one of the means. In the historical-philosophical sense dialogue continues even if the parties do not meet. While everyone delivers his own monologue, history —the existence of which is as much a matter of faith as its beginning and end—is in a mysterious way the dialogue of all these monologues. As Franz Rosenzweig puts it, this merely suspected, believed in and hoped for dialogue is the whole truth. History is the one tremendous “day of the trial”, where everyone tells what happened from his own point of view, thus giving his testimony. The awareness that one’s own truth is merely a part of the whole truth should fill us all with fear. Yet the awareness that one’s own truth really participates in the whole truth ought to fill us with still greater fear.
Jews and Christians share common roots and common ultimate hopes. Their duty is to hold on to these with stubborn perseverance.
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