A Healing Relationship in Interfaith Dialogue

SJU hosted expert panelists in discussion of Orthodox Jews and the Catholic Church.

Monday, November 13, 2017

by Katie Smith ’15

On Thursday, Nov. 9, faculty, students, local faith leaders and community members gathered at Saint Joseph’s University for a panel discussion sponsored by the Institute for Jewish Catholic Relations (IJCR). Panelists Rabbi Mark Dratch and Rabbi Eugene Korn, Ph.D., spoke on two statements recently issued by Orthodox Jews on their relationship to the Catholic Church. Dratch and Korn were principal authors on each statement respectively.

“A talk like this would be unimaginable to my grandfather,” began Korn, a scholar from Jerusalem and the academic director for the Center for Jewish-Christian Cooperation and Understanding in Israel.

Given Judaism’s traumatic history with the Catholic Church, interfaith dialogue had been discouraged for centuries, until the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate in 1965. The statement ended the Church’s previous attitude and policy of avoidance of interfaith work. Over 50 years later, no Orthodox Jewish organization had responded to the Church until the release of these two statements.

“Though they were not much involved with contemporary Jewish-Christian relations until recently, Orthodox Jews have begun to give serious thought to the remarkable changes that have occurred,” says IJCR Assistant Director Adam Gregerman, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and religious studies at SJU. “We were fortunate to host two prominent thinkers, each of them crucial in authoring these Orthodox statements, for their first public dialogue.”

Korn is one of five authors of “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven,” written by Orthodox Rabbis from Europe, Israel and the United States. The document recognizes the deep commonality in Judaism and Christianity, having a practical partnership in the Abrahamic covenantal mission and a shared theological conviction.

While not minimizing the differences between the faiths, Korn shared that Jews and Christians have more in common than what divides them. He urged members of both groups to join together as active models of service, unconditional love and dedication to the covenant.

“If you want a future that is better than the past, we must engage,” remarked Korn.

The second statement, “Between Jerusalem and Rome,” was authored by the Conference of European Rabbis, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America, of which Dratch is the executive vice president. He is also the founder of JSafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment, an organization addressing issues of domestic violence, child abuse and institutional and professional improprieties in the Jewish community.

“Jews, and really all religious people, confront the world on a universal human level and as a religious person,” said Dratch. “The first level allows for Jews and Christians to be partners, working together on social and human issues and striving for mutual respect and cooperation.”

Dratch, however, urged boundaries in interacting on a religious level with non-Jews. The statement he helped to author says that dialogue with the Church is possible about social issues, but that neither institution can ask either to reevaluate or change any of its intrinsic principles. “Faith is not up for negotiation,” he concluded.

“This program marks the first time contributors to the two statements publicly compared their distinctive approaches,” says IJCR Director Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., professor of theology and religious studies. “Both documents recognize that profound changes in Catholic teaching are underway and respond positively. However, the two statements approach interfaith relations differently.”

The panel closed with a dialogue among Dratch, Korn, Cunningham and Gregerman, featuring questions from the audience.

“I can’t help but smile at the symbolism of two Rabbis presenting these documents at a Catholic University,” says Gregerman.

A full video of the talk can be found here.