A Nearness in Difference

Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Since Vatican II

More than forty years ago, I was present at what I believe was the first formal Jewish-Catholic colloquy ever held in the United States. Sponsored by the American Benedictine Academy, it took place at the oldest Benedictine monastery in America, St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from January 25 to 28, 1965. I remember vividly my sense of trepidation.

When I traveled to St. Vincent’s, I could not shake the fearfulness engendered by my Ohio childhood and memories of Catholic hostility and intransigence. That fear had been compounded by what I later learned of the church’s efforts over the centuries to convert or persecute Jews. The enormous trauma of the Holocaust, moreover, had left Jews in a perpetual state of heightened concern over even the remote possibility of losing another Jewish soul-and perhaps a default mode of wariness where Christianity is concerned. Yet a new spirit of possibility hung in the air. Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s revolutionary declaration on the relationship between the church and Judaism, would be promulgated later in the year. It would denounce anti-Semitism and affirm God’s covenant with the Jews. Clearly something significant was happening to the church’s official attitude toward Judaism, and it was reflected in that January meeting, attended by thirteen representatives of each faith.

Among all the things I learned at Latrobe, two experiences...

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About the Author

Eugene B. Borowitz is Distinguished University Professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City.