Can Jews Trust Catholics?

A rabbi looks forward

The celebration of Jubilee 2000 reached beyond the boundaries of the Catholic community, leading to dramatic steps toward reconciliation with other religious communities. In particular, Pope John Paul II focused his efforts on putting an end to the enmity that has existed between Jews and Christians over much of the past two thousand years. In his reflections on the jubilee, he often referred to the penitential actions of Christians toward Judaism by the Hebrew word Teshuvah, a term rooted in the idea of "return"-a return to God and God’s way. For Jews it is at the very center of our religious lives. It is a path that leads from acknowledgment of sin to the resolution not to commit the sin again. Therefore, when the pope asks Catholics to engage in the process of Teshuvah toward Jews, it engenders some questions: How shall the Jewish community respond to the papal call to Teshuvah? How can Jews know that Christian Teshuvah is genuine?

The great Jewish philosopher and theologian Moses Maimonides provides some guidance. In "Laws of Repentance" he writes, "It is prohibited for a person to be cruel (akhzari) and not to be reconciled. Rather, let a person be inclined to be forgiving and hard to anger. When the sinner asks him for forgiveness let him be forgiving with a whole heart and a generous soul....This is the way of the seed of Israel for their heart is predisposed in this fashion." Maimonides then notes a...

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About the Author

Rabbi Michael A. Signer is Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and co-chair of the Joint Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism.