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  • Blessed are your comings and your goings

    In this reflection we explore rabbinic thought patterns and the insights of Jewish commentators concerning a single verse of Scripture: “Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings” (Deut. 28:6). Intrigued by this text and its bounty of meanings, the sages of old saw something odd about this verse. Surely, they reasoned, the word order should be reversed. On a typical day, a person is seen going out from home and only later coming back in. The text should read, "Blessed shall you be in your goings and your comings". Yet instead it refers to 'comings and goings' (in that order). What is the Torah saying through this choice of wording? Ponder this with a friend. How do you reply? In the Talmud, Rabbi Yohana interprets our verse like this: “Just as your coming into this world was without sin, so be your going out of the world without sin.”[1] In other words, the blessings relate to the experience of birth and death, entering and departing the world. Convinced? Not all the sages are. Yes, the explanation might hold in the case of an individual, but this text is addressed to a whole nation. Astruc offers an alternative view.[2] In blessing the people, Moses was assuring them of divine guidance as they entered, 'came into', the promised land. But he was also reassuring them that this blessing would never leave them. Even if they sinned and 'went out' (were exiled) from the land as a result of sin, the Lord would never abandon them. The covenant would remain. Do you find this view more plausible? Yet even Astruc’s creative interpretation poses difficulties for the attentive reader. Look at the context of this verse. The blessings listed have a concrete, material quality to them. They are about finding comfort in plentiful crops, a safe home, a healthy family. Thus the Midrash [3] may offer a better explanation: our verse refers to a person’s daily business affairs — “your coming in for business and your going out for business” —or one’s worldly affairs in general. Wait a minute! Is the Torah suggesting a crass ‘God will make you rich’ theology’? No. Listen to what the Ha’amek Davar has to say: “You will be blessed in all these material things when you go into them and leave them. They will not defile or seduce you; but the blessing of the Lord will stand by you to enable you to overcome all temptation.” [4] So then, the blessing is not wealth, but virtue. As you strive to be faithful, the Lord will help you to be faithful, even amidst those worldly dealings which can threaten to distract you from your focus on the Lord. For the Lord has made you a holy people, and your relationship with God permeates every moment of your life. Note the variety of interpretations arising from a single verse of Torah. In fact, Jewish tradition speaks of the "seventy faces of Torah". No one interpretation can exhaust the possibilities of meaning to be found in the sacred text, for the word of God has infinite depths. Where is your own voice in this conversation? On what points do you agree or disagree with the sages? Can you appreciate the lively spirit of debate by which Jewish interpreters sharpen their approach as they engage with the text ? Prayerfully, and creatively attentive to the text, what insights can you discover? • 1.Bava Mezia, 107. 2. Solomon Astruc, late 14th c. Spain. 3. Midrash Devarim, VII, 5. 4. Ha’amek Davar is a commentary by a Torah scholar of Belarus known as the Netziv (1817-1893). Bibliography: Eskenazi and Weiss, eds., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York, 2008); Freedman and Simon, eds., Midrash Rabbah (London/New York, 1983); Leibowitz, New Studies in Devarim (New York: Lambda, 1996); Scripture: NJPS. © Teresa Pirola, 2013. lightoftorah.net. Reproduction for non-commercial use permitted with acknowledgement of website. Download the PDF version. Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry based in the Catholic community in Australia, encouraging Christians to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures with the help of insights from Jewish tradition. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8), the Torah portion read for this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom! Download the latest version of the (free) Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendar, courtesy of Etz Hayim-Tree of Life Publishing.

  • Concern for the Bride

    In Deuteronomy 21-24 we come across a number of laws that reflect a concern for the welfare of women. For example: “When a man has taken a bride, he shall not go out with the army or be assigned to it for any purpose; he shall be exempt for one year for the sake of his household, to give happiness to the woman he has married” (Deut. 24:5). According to this verse, military service is delayed by one year in order to allow a bride spousal companionship. Interestingly, here the rationale for the law favours the woman. Elsewhere, in Deut. 20:7, the same rule is described in terms of the man’s interests. [Note: according to Jewish law this exemption did not apply in warfare considered defensive/obligatory, as opposed to ‘optional’ e.g., initiated by the king for economic reasons.] In Deuteronomy we also read of a law which allows time for a female taken captive in war to mourn the loss of her family before an Israelite is allowed to marry her (21:10-14). We read, too, of laws which prescribe punishment for a husband who tries to defame his wife (22:18-19) and which protect the inheritance rights of a firstborn son when his mother falls from her husband’s favour (21:15-17). There is also a law which places restrictions on a man who divorces his wife and later wants to remarry her (24:1). Examining texts like these in the light of other biblical and extra-biblical texts, scholars speculate that marriage and divorce laws in ancient Israel accommodated a range of complexities. Study of these and other verses from Deuteronomy, has led one contemporary Jewish commentator to conclude: “Deuteronomy generally displays a high regard for the dignity of women. They are neither property nor domestics to be abused and discarded, but persons entitled to rights and respect.”[1] Then again, other Jewish commentators [2] are more likely to remind us that the reality for women of those times was a far cry from a situation of gender equality as we would understand it today. E.g., a woman found not to be a virgin when she is married can be stoned to death (22:13-21). [Whether this actually occurred is another question. Talmudic students are familiar with early rabbinic legal adjustments which made capital punishment virtually impossible.] Both Jewish opinions draw on the same bible text, but each takes up a different emphasis. Like Christianity, Judaism has evolved over the centuries and reshaped many of its attitudes and practices, including those concerning women. Tensions over 'conservative' versus 'feminist' interpretations of biblical texts are as alive today in Jewish circles as they are in Christian circles! In our own reading of the bible, it is important to be aware of such developments lest a superficial reading feed anti-Jewish stereotypes. On this last point, Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar, doesn’t hesitate to challenge widespread Christian misconceptions. One example she takes up is the popular ‘feminist Jesus’, a Jesus who is said to have ‘liberated’ women against a culture of “early Judaism [that] was so misogynistic that it made the Taliban look progressive by comparison.” Historical-critical enquiry simply does not support this damning view of the Judaism of Jesus’ day, says Levine. “Judaism of this period was not an egalitarian utopia, but nor was it in general a system that ‘cast out’ women, children, the poor and sick...”[3] For further reading see AJ Levine, The Misunderstood Jew (New York: HarperCollins, 2006). Bibliography: Eskenazi and Weiss, The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary (New York, 2008); JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia, 1996); Levine and Brettler, eds., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2011); Schorsch, Canon Without Closure (New York, 2007). Scripture: JPS. (1) Schorsch, 611. (2) Eskenazi and Weiss, 1188. (3) Levine & Brettler, 502-3 © Teresa Pirola, 2012. Reproduction for non-commercial use permitted with acknowledgement of website. Download the PDF version. Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry based in the Catholic community in Australia, encouraging Christians to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures with the help of insights from Jewish tradition. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19), the Torah portion read for this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom! Download the latest version of the (free) Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendar, courtesy of Etz Hayim-Tree of Life Publishing.

  • An Unsolved Homicide

    “If, in the land that the LORD your God is assigning you to possess, someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known...” (Deuteronomy 21:1). In the case of an unsolved homicide—a corpse in a field, no suspect, no witnesses—Deuteronomy 21 describes a religious ritual to atone for the sin against the slain man. The ritual involves a heifer over which the elders of the nearest town make certain pronouncements, witnessed by the priests of the same town. Read Deuteronomy 21:1-9 and ponder the text with a friend. How are we to understand this puzzling, even disturbing, religious ritual? Let's listen to some Jewish voices across the centuries: We begin with Maimonides who cites a pragmatic reason for the ritual. “The investigation, the procession of the elders, the measuring and the taking of the heifer, make people talk about it, and by making the event public, the murderer may be found out...” [1] But if publicity is vital, why doesn’t the Torah name a busy part of town as the place of ritual, instead of a wadi “which is not tilled or sown” (v.4)? Besides, objects Nahmanides,[2] detection of a murderer does not atone for the deed. The question remains: how can this ritual be ‘cleansing’ of sin? And why would the town’s elders need to declare themselves innocent if they are not guilty of the crime? Continue to ponder the text. Perhaps your reflections led you to consider the representative role of the elders and priests. Their declaration, “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done” (v.7) is a statement about how the community conducts its affairs, for which its leadership is held responsible. The Talmud stresses the duty of the townsfolk to ensure the welfare of a person as he departs the town. Was the victim allowed to leave the town without food and unescorted, defenceless against bandits, wild beasts and the harsh natural elements? No! declare the elders. We would never have consciously allowed such a situation. We are not that kind of town![3] In fact, argues Abravanel,[4] this ritual is designed to be a wake-up call to the community. Too often people become complacent. What do they care about a dead man lying in a field? They have families to feed and jobs to work. The drama of the ‘broken heifer’ ritual ensures that life does stop momentarily, that the life of this one person—created in the image of God—is noticed, and that the community pauses to examine its duty of care, each person’s responsibility for his/her neighbour. The Jerusalem Talmud [5] draws an additional insight from this Torah text. ‘This blood’ in verse 7 can be understood to refer not only to the victim, but also to the perpetrator who shed the blood. Perhaps, reason the sages, one man attacked the other in an act of desperation born of extreme poverty. Mindful of such a scenario, the declaration of the elders is reminding the community of its duty of care that no one must be allowed to remain in poverty. Reflection Think of an incident which led you to pause to consider your duty of care. Can our Torah passage speak to this experience? What public rituals do we have today that encourage a sense of moral responsibility for one another? 1. Maimonides (12th century), Guide for the Perplexed III, Ch 40. 2. 13th c. Spain. 3. Rashi’s view (11th c. France). 4. 15th c. Spain. 5. There are two compilations of the Talmud, one compiled in Babylon, the other in Israel. The Babylonian Talmud is the more extensive work. Bibliography: Eskenazi and Weiss, eds., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York, 2008); Herczeg, trans., The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary (New York: Mesorah, 2011); Leibowitz, New Studies in Devarim (New York, 1996); Munk, The Call of the Torah, vol. 5 (New York, 1995). Scripture: NJPS. © Teresa Pirola, 2013. lightoftorah.net. Reproduction for non-commercial use permitted with acknowledgement of website. Download the PDF version. Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry based in the Catholic community in Australia, encouraging Christians to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures with the help of insights from Jewish tradition. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat Shofetim (Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9), the Torah portion read for this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom! Download your free Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendar, courtesy of Etz Hayim-Tree of Life Publishing.

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  • I am a title 03

    Jules Isaac PDF version More about Jules Isaac An ‘Outsider’ who Shaped the Council In Scripture, the ‘outsider’ has an important role to play for the ‘insiders.’ The story of salvation hinges on a people, Israel, elected to bear witness to the Name of God in the world. Yet it is repeatedly punctuated by the contribution of individuals who don’t come from within that people. Think of the pagan priest Jethro who exerts formative influence over his son-in-law, Moses (Exodus 18). Or Ruth, a woman from the Moabite tribe, who becomes the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4). Or Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho, who emerges as a heroine in the Book of Joshua (Ch 2). Each time, someone from ‘outside’ acts as a catalyst for transformation of life on the ‘inside.’ The pattern continues into the Gospels where Jesus himself is confronted by the faith and proactive response of the ‘outsider’―such as the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28―as he goes about his mission to the house of Israel. It is a pattern that continues in various forms and intensities in our own day. In what follows I wish to draw attention, ever so briefly, to the input of one particular ‘outsider’ who contributed to the unfolding of the Second Vatican Council: the French-Jewish historian Jules Isaac (1877-1963). In using the term ‘outsider’ I here refer simply to the fact that Jules Isaac was not a baptised Christian, not a member of the Catholic Church, and that, as a Jew, he had experienced first-hand rejection from Christian European society. [1] In the mid-1930s Jules Isaac was a respected French Jewish scholar with a government appointment as Inspector General of Education for the whole of France. As Hitler came to power and the war intensified across Europe, he found himself stripped of his post, his published work destroyed, and forced into hiding to escape arrest by the Nazis. Tragically, there would be no escape for his wife, Laure, and their youngest son, daughter and son-in-law. They were rounded up one day while Isaac was away from their lodgings. All but their youngest son, Jean-Claude, perished in the Nazi-driven genocide. Against this backdrop, one could have well understood if this husband, father and scholar had retreated into a world of bitterness and despair. Instead, marshalling his intellectual energies and a conciliatory spirit, Isaac chose to address Jewish suffering by contributing to the healing and reform of the church. Why the church? Through experience and study he had come to understand that while Nazism was not an expression or direct outgrowth of Christianity, it nonetheless utilized and manipulated anti-Jewish thought patterns that had been deeply embedded in Christian catechesis and culture for centuries. From 1940 Isaac had begun researching the phenomenon of anti-Judaism as it appeared in Christian bible commentaries, sermons and catechisms. Describing it as the “teaching of contempt,” he systematically demonstrated how it contradicted the fundamental tenets of Christian belief and was fed by historical errors and stereotypes of Jews that had no basis in real Judaism. Let’s be clear: in his critique Isaac was not denouncing Christianity but rather its toxic distortions, and he did so forthrightly but without animosity. After the war, Isaac’s publications and interfaith networking, including meetings with Catholic officials, were influential. [2] In 1960, with preparations for the Second Vatican Council well underway, Isaac met with Pope John XXIII and also Cardinal Bea. There he tabled a list of eighteen points of Jewish-Christian contention and urged the formation of a sub-commission in the council that would investigate the “teaching of contempt.” According to a number of converging accounts, it was this meeting that moved the Pope to include the Jewish-Christian relationship in the council agenda, which until this point had been absent. [3] As events unfolded, Vatican II proved to be a decisive turning point in Jewish-Catholic relations. Nostra Aetate, the council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, devoted paragraph four to Catholic relations with the Jewish people. Despite its brevity, it was a powerful summons. Reaching back to a key testimony of St Paul, the council embraced Christianity’s Jewish roots and affirmed God’s irrevocable love for the Jewish people (cf. Rom 11:28-29). It rejected the ingrained Christian accusation of Jews as “Christ-killers” and made clear that antisemitism is the antithesis of the gospel. Nostra Aetate officially inaugurated a process of reconciliation that was centuries overdue, arresting and reversing Christian speech and behavior patterns that had done untold harm to the Jewish people and to the credibility of Christianity itself. Among the pre-conciliar efforts of individuals and groups whose dedicated work in Jewish-Christian dialogue paved the way to Nostra Aetate, Isaac’s voice made an outstanding contribution. Isaac’s wife, Laure―herself an active supporter of his work―was murdered along with millions of innocents at the hands of Hitler’s regime, and Jules himself only narrowly escaped capture. Neither lived to see Nostra Aetate promulgated, yet their achievements live on in the fruits and ongoing developments of Jewish-Christian reconciliation in our own time. I like to think that with every step by which we Catholics embrace the vision of Nostra Aetate and open ourselves to a deeper understanding of the Jewish-Christian relationship, we honor the memory of Jules Isaac―and that of Laure, whose last letter to her husband, dispatched from a transit camp en route to Auschwitz, read: “Save yourself for your work; the world is waiting for it."[4] • ​​ ​ For a scholarly work on Jules Isaac’s life and contributions see Norman Tobias, Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017). Isaac, although a highly principled truth-seeker, did not consider himself an observant religious Jew in the traditional sense. Isaac’s works on this theme include Jésus et Israël (1947), Genèse de l’antisémitisme (1956), and L’Enseignement du Mépris (1962), the latter which was written at the age of 85 and published in English as The Teaching of Contempt ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964 ). Tobias, Jewish Conscience , 249-251. Quoted in Claire Huchet Bishop’s biographic introduction to: Jules Isaac (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 9. ​ Recommended reading: Tobias, Norman. Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2017. ​ View lecture by Norman Tobias at: https://www.ratisbonne.org.il/bk/category/lectures/ © Teresa Pirola, 2016. This article may be reproduced for non-commercial use with acknowledgment of website lightoftorah.net

  • I am a title 02

    Jules Isaac PDF version More about Jules Isaac An ‘Outsider’ who Shaped the Council In Scripture, the ‘outsider’ has an important role to play for the ‘insiders.’ The story of salvation hinges on a people, Israel, elected to bear witness to the Name of God in the world. Yet it is repeatedly punctuated by the contribution of individuals who don’t come from within that people. Think of the pagan priest Jethro who exerts formative influence over his son-in-law, Moses (Exodus 18). Or Ruth, a woman from the Moabite tribe, who becomes the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4). Or Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho, who emerges as a heroine in the Book of Joshua (Ch 2). Each time, someone from ‘outside’ acts as a catalyst for transformation of life on the ‘inside.’ The pattern continues into the Gospels where Jesus himself is confronted by the faith and proactive response of the ‘outsider’―such as the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28―as he goes about his mission to the house of Israel. It is a pattern that continues in various forms and intensities in our own day. In what follows I wish to draw attention, ever so briefly, to the input of one particular ‘outsider’ who contributed to the unfolding of the Second Vatican Council: the French-Jewish historian Jules Isaac (1877-1963). In using the term ‘outsider’ I here refer simply to the fact that Jules Isaac was not a baptised Christian, not a member of the Catholic Church, and that, as a Jew, he had experienced first-hand rejection from Christian European society. [1] In the mid-1930s Jules Isaac was a respected French Jewish scholar with a government appointment as Inspector General of Education for the whole of France. As Hitler came to power and the war intensified across Europe, he found himself stripped of his post, his published work destroyed, and forced into hiding to escape arrest by the Nazis. Tragically, there would be no escape for his wife, Laure, and their youngest son, daughter and son-in-law. They were rounded up one day while Isaac was away from their lodgings. All but their youngest son, Jean-Claude, perished in the Nazi-driven genocide. Against this backdrop, one could have well understood if this husband, father and scholar had retreated into a world of bitterness and despair. Instead, marshalling his intellectual energies and a conciliatory spirit, Isaac chose to address Jewish suffering by contributing to the healing and reform of the church. Why the church? Through experience and study he had come to understand that while Nazism was not an expression or direct outgrowth of Christianity, it nonetheless utilized and manipulated anti-Jewish thought patterns that had been deeply embedded in Christian catechesis and culture for centuries. From 1940 Isaac had begun researching the phenomenon of anti-Judaism as it appeared in Christian bible commentaries, sermons and catechisms. Describing it as the “teaching of contempt,” he systematically demonstrated how it contradicted the fundamental tenets of Christian belief and was fed by historical errors and stereotypes of Jews that had no basis in real Judaism. Let’s be clear: in his critique Isaac was not denouncing Christianity but rather its toxic distortions, and he did so forthrightly but without animosity. After the war, Isaac’s publications and interfaith networking, including meetings with Catholic officials, were influential. [2] In 1960, with preparations for the Second Vatican Council well underway, Isaac met with Pope John XXIII and also Cardinal Bea. There he tabled a list of eighteen points of Jewish-Christian contention and urged the formation of a sub-commission in the council that would investigate the “teaching of contempt.” According to a number of converging accounts, it was this meeting that moved the Pope to include the Jewish-Christian relationship in the council agenda, which until this point had been absent. [3] As events unfolded, Vatican II proved to be a decisive turning point in Jewish-Catholic relations. Nostra Aetate, the council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, devoted paragraph four to Catholic relations with the Jewish people. Despite its brevity, it was a powerful summons. Reaching back to a key testimony of St Paul, the council embraced Christianity’s Jewish roots and affirmed God’s irrevocable love for the Jewish people (cf. Rom 11:28-29). It rejected the ingrained Christian accusation of Jews as “Christ-killers” and made clear that antisemitism is the antithesis of the gospel. Nostra Aetate officially inaugurated a process of reconciliation that was centuries overdue, arresting and reversing Christian speech and behavior patterns that had done untold harm to the Jewish people and to the credibility of Christianity itself. Among the pre-conciliar efforts of individuals and groups whose dedicated work in Jewish-Christian dialogue paved the way to Nostra Aetate, Isaac’s voice made an outstanding contribution. Isaac’s wife, Laure―herself an active supporter of his work―was murdered along with millions of innocents at the hands of Hitler’s regime, and Jules himself only narrowly escaped capture. Neither lived to see Nostra Aetate promulgated, yet their achievements live on in the fruits and ongoing developments of Jewish-Christian reconciliation in our own time. I like to think that with every step by which we Catholics embrace the vision of Nostra Aetate and open ourselves to a deeper understanding of the Jewish-Christian relationship, we honor the memory of Jules Isaac―and that of Laure, whose last letter to her husband, dispatched from a transit camp en route to Auschwitz, read: “Save yourself for your work; the world is waiting for it."[4] • ​​ ​ For a scholarly work on Jules Isaac’s life and contributions see Norman Tobias, Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017). Isaac, although a highly principled truth-seeker, did not consider himself an observant religious Jew in the traditional sense. Isaac’s works on this theme include Jésus et Israël (1947), Genèse de l’antisémitisme (1956), and L’Enseignement du Mépris (1962), the latter which was written at the age of 85 and published in English as The Teaching of Contempt ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964 ). Tobias, Jewish Conscience , 249-251. Quoted in Claire Huchet Bishop’s biographic introduction to: Jules Isaac (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 9. ​ Recommended reading: Tobias, Norman. Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2017. ​ View lecture by Norman Tobias at: https://www.ratisbonne.org.il/bk/category/lectures/ © Teresa Pirola, 2016. This article may be reproduced for non-commercial use with acknowledgment of website lightoftorah.net

  • I am a title 01

    Jules Isaac PDF version More about Jules Isaac An ‘Outsider’ who Shaped the Council In Scripture, the ‘outsider’ has an important role to play for the ‘insiders.’ The story of salvation hinges on a people, Israel, elected to bear witness to the Name of God in the world. Yet it is repeatedly punctuated by the contribution of individuals who don’t come from within that people. Think of the pagan priest Jethro who exerts formative influence over his son-in-law, Moses (Exodus 18). Or Ruth, a woman from the Moabite tribe, who becomes the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4). Or Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho, who emerges as a heroine in the Book of Joshua (Ch 2). Each time, someone from ‘outside’ acts as a catalyst for transformation of life on the ‘inside.’ The pattern continues into the Gospels where Jesus himself is confronted by the faith and proactive response of the ‘outsider’―such as the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28―as he goes about his mission to the house of Israel. It is a pattern that continues in various forms and intensities in our own day. In what follows I wish to draw attention, ever so briefly, to the input of one particular ‘outsider’ who contributed to the unfolding of the Second Vatican Council: the French-Jewish historian Jules Isaac (1877-1963). In using the term ‘outsider’ I here refer simply to the fact that Jules Isaac was not a baptised Christian, not a member of the Catholic Church, and that, as a Jew, he had experienced first-hand rejection from Christian European society. [1] In the mid-1930s Jules Isaac was a respected French Jewish scholar with a government appointment as Inspector General of Education for the whole of France. As Hitler came to power and the war intensified across Europe, he found himself stripped of his post, his published work destroyed, and forced into hiding to escape arrest by the Nazis. Tragically, there would be no escape for his wife, Laure, and their youngest son, daughter and son-in-law. They were rounded up one day while Isaac was away from their lodgings. All but their youngest son, Jean-Claude, perished in the Nazi-driven genocide. Against this backdrop, one could have well understood if this husband, father and scholar had retreated into a world of bitterness and despair. Instead, marshalling his intellectual energies and a conciliatory spirit, Isaac chose to address Jewish suffering by contributing to the healing and reform of the church. Why the church? Through experience and study he had come to understand that while Nazism was not an expression or direct outgrowth of Christianity, it nonetheless utilized and manipulated anti-Jewish thought patterns that had been deeply embedded in Christian catechesis and culture for centuries. From 1940 Isaac had begun researching the phenomenon of anti-Judaism as it appeared in Christian bible commentaries, sermons and catechisms. Describing it as the “teaching of contempt,” he systematically demonstrated how it contradicted the fundamental tenets of Christian belief and was fed by historical errors and stereotypes of Jews that had no basis in real Judaism. Let’s be clear: in his critique Isaac was not denouncing Christianity but rather its toxic distortions, and he did so forthrightly but without animosity. After the war, Isaac’s publications and interfaith networking, including meetings with Catholic officials, were influential. [2] In 1960, with preparations for the Second Vatican Council well underway, Isaac met with Pope John XXIII and also Cardinal Bea. There he tabled a list of eighteen points of Jewish-Christian contention and urged the formation of a sub-commission in the council that would investigate the “teaching of contempt.” According to a number of converging accounts, it was this meeting that moved the Pope to include the Jewish-Christian relationship in the council agenda, which until this point had been absent. [3] As events unfolded, Vatican II proved to be a decisive turning point in Jewish-Catholic relations. Nostra Aetate, the council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, devoted paragraph four to Catholic relations with the Jewish people. Despite its brevity, it was a powerful summons. Reaching back to a key testimony of St Paul, the council embraced Christianity’s Jewish roots and affirmed God’s irrevocable love for the Jewish people (cf. Rom 11:28-29). It rejected the ingrained Christian accusation of Jews as “Christ-killers” and made clear that antisemitism is the antithesis of the gospel. Nostra Aetate officially inaugurated a process of reconciliation that was centuries overdue, arresting and reversing Christian speech and behavior patterns that had done untold harm to the Jewish people and to the credibility of Christianity itself. Among the pre-conciliar efforts of individuals and groups whose dedicated work in Jewish-Christian dialogue paved the way to Nostra Aetate, Isaac’s voice made an outstanding contribution. Isaac’s wife, Laure―herself an active supporter of his work―was murdered along with millions of innocents at the hands of Hitler’s regime, and Jules himself only narrowly escaped capture. Neither lived to see Nostra Aetate promulgated, yet their achievements live on in the fruits and ongoing developments of Jewish-Christian reconciliation in our own time. I like to think that with every step by which we Catholics embrace the vision of Nostra Aetate and open ourselves to a deeper understanding of the Jewish-Christian relationship, we honor the memory of Jules Isaac―and that of Laure, whose last letter to her husband, dispatched from a transit camp en route to Auschwitz, read: “Save yourself for your work; the world is waiting for it."[4] • ​​ ​ For a scholarly work on Jules Isaac’s life and contributions see Norman Tobias, Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017). Isaac, although a highly principled truth-seeker, did not consider himself an observant religious Jew in the traditional sense. Isaac’s works on this theme include Jésus et Israël (1947), Genèse de l’antisémitisme (1956), and L’Enseignement du Mépris (1962), the latter which was written at the age of 85 and published in English as The Teaching of Contempt ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964 ). Tobias, Jewish Conscience , 249-251. Quoted in Claire Huchet Bishop’s biographic introduction to: Jules Isaac (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 9. ​ Recommended reading: Tobias, Norman. Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2017. ​ View lecture by Norman Tobias at: https://www.ratisbonne.org.il/bk/category/lectures/ © Teresa Pirola, 2016. This article may be reproduced for non-commercial use with acknowledgment of website lightoftorah.net

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