Institute to Co-sponsor Symposium with the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies in Rome

A Conversation that Changed History

The Meeting of Saint Pope John XXIII and Professor Jules Isaac, June 13, 1960


Professor Jules Isaac was an esteemed French historian and educational leader by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. When in 1940 the Vichy government imposed antisemitic policies modelled on Nazi legislation, he began studying what he came to call the Christian “teaching of contempt” for Jews. During his research he suffered the loss of his wife Laure and daughter Juliette to the Auschwitz gas chambers, but was urged by Laure to persist in his labors in a note she managed to send: “take care of yourself, have confidence and finish your work, the world is waiting for it.” In 1947, he published the important 600-page work Jésus et Israel. He brought the manuscript with him to the “Emergency Conference on Antisemitism” held that year in Seelisberg, Switzerland, which largely shaped the influential “Ten Points of Seelisberg” that the conference issued.

After newly elected Pope John XXIII announced on January 25, 1959 the convening of the Second Vatican Council, Isaac worked with the French ambassador to the Holy See to arrange an audience. Thus, on June 13, 1960, Isaac met privately with the pope to present his research and to request that a subcommittee be appointed to examine Catholic teaching about Jews in preparation for the Council. As they parted, Isaac asked if he could take away “a glimmer of hope.” Good Pope John exclaimed, “You are entitled to more than a hope!”

Msgr. Loris Capovilla, John XXIII’s personal secretary later recalled: “I remember very well that the Pope remained extremely impressed by that meeting and he talked about it with me for a long time. It is also true that until that day it had not occurred to John XXIII that the Council had to deal with the Jewish question and with antisemitism. But from that day on he was completely taken by it.”

In other words, the meeting of the Pope and the Professor led directly to the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, and the new relationship between Jews and Catholics that has grown over the past six decades.

To shed light on this immensely significant moment, whose importance has perhaps been realized only in retrospect, research centers at two Jesuit universities, the Institute for Jewish-Catholics Relations of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome will co-sponsor an invitational research symposium on June 10-12, 2020 to be hosted in Rome by the Bea Centre.  The participating scholars will consider the influence of Prof. Isaac’s research, his audience with “Good Pope John,” the developments over the ensuing six decades, and current and future aspects of what Pope Francis has called “the journey of friendship” between Catholic and Jews.


Rabbi Dr. Jehoschua Ahrens is Director for Central Europe of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, Jerusalem, and a board member of the German Council of Christians and Jews (DKR). His doctoral dissertation studied the 1947 Seelisberg Conference.


Ms. Liliane Apotheker is First Vice-President of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), longtime board member of the Amitié Judéo-Chrétienne de France and frequent contributor to its journal, Sens.


Dr. Karma Ben Johanan is a post-doctoral fellow at the Polonsky Academy at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and a junior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. A historian of contemporary theology, she studies reciprocal perceptions of Christians and Jews after Vatican II.


Dr. Mary C. Boys, SNJM is Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York. Among her many publications is Redeeming Our Sacred Story: The Death of Jesus and Relations between Jews and Christians.


Dr. John Connelly is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in modern European political and social history and Catholic history. He is the author of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965.


Dr. Philip Cunningham is Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University. He is Past President of the International Council of Christians and Jews and author of Seeking Shalom: The Journey to Right Relationship between Catholics and Jews.


Dr. Massimo Gargiulo is lecturer at the Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University. His main research topics are relations between Hellenism and Judaism in Second Temple and Rabbinic periods, Biblical Historiography and the Jewish grammatical tradition.


Rabbi Dr. Irving Greenberg served as Professor of Jewish Studies at City College of City University of New York. He was a Founding President of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and of the Jewish Life Network/ Steinhardt Foundation. He authored For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity.


Dr. Adam Gregerman is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Co-Director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. He is author of Building on the Ruins of the Temple: Apologetics and Polemics in Early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.


Dr. Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Jewish Studies, and Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Science. She is co-editor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament.


Rabbi Dr. David Meyer is Lecturer on Rabbinic Literature and Contemporary Jewish Thought at the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He is also Invited Professor of Midrash at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) and at the Universitad del Pacifico (Peru).


Dr. Marianne Moyaert is Coordinator van Emoena Nederland at the Faculty of Religion and Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the co-editor of several books and author of numerous articles on comparative theology and Catholic-Jewish relations.


Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka is University Professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Rector emeritus of the Seminario Rabbinico Latinoamericano, he was co-author with the future Pope Francis of On Heaven and Earth, a book resulting from their years of dialogue.


Rev. Dr. Jesper Svartvik was the inaugural Krister Stendahl Professor of Theology of Religions (2009-2018), now serves as a diocesan theologian in the diocese of Karlstad, Church of Sweden, and is a prolific author on the Bible and Christian-Jewish relations.


Dr. Norman C. Tobias, who holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Toronto, is the author of  Jewish Conscience of the Church: Jules Isaac and the Second Vatican Council.


Rev. Dr. Étienne Vetö, CCN is Professor of Christian Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and director of its Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies. He has written extensively on christology and trinitarian theology.


Dr. Deborah Weissman, a specialist in Jewish education from Jerusalem, is Past President and special consultant to the International Council of Christians and Jews and author of Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist: A Life of Dialogue through Activism.