Baltimore — The Jewish community must stop fixating on Holocaust-related issues if dialogue with the Catholic Church is to progress, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary declared Wednesday during a panel featuring Cardinal William Keeler, Baltimore’s internationally known Jewish expert.
“I believe that we Jews have been guilty of constricting the canvas” of interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Schorsch told several hundred rabbis on Tuesday gathered at the Rabbinical Assembly convention. “It is time to put the Holocaust in perspective and not allow the Christian-Jewish dialogue to be focused solely and entirely on the past.”
Rabbi Schorsch’s remarks come as the Vatican has recently broken off interfaith dialogue with IJCIC, the official Jewish umbrella group of the last 30 years, because of Jewish criticism of the church’s Holocaust policies.
In recent weeks, the major American Jewish defense groups have been scrambling to figure whether to do away with the interfaith coalition approach.
But Cardinal Keeler told The Jewish Week that the Vatican favors an umbrella organization. “It would help to have one group,” he said.
Rabbi Schorsch said he was not dismissing that the Jewish community still has “friction” and “many differences” with the Vatican over such issues as the recent canonization of Edith Stein, the refusal to open the Vatican’s war archives, and Pope John Paul II’s desire to canonize World War II Pope Pius XII.
But he insisted these issues must be restricted to a corner of the whole canvas of interfaith dialogue. Praising the positive theological steps for Jews taken by Pope John Paul II, Rabbi Schorsch stated that new Catholic-Jewish discussions should focus on common social justice causes and sharing information about each faith’s religious laws, rituals and liturgies.
“We have a golden opportunity to expand the dialogue well beyond the focus of history.”
He said the church’s catechism, or codified religious law, “should be on the shelf of every Conservative rabbi. During a question and answer session, Rabbi Schorsch also called for Jewish theologians to address anti-Christian language embedded in traditional Jewish liturgy and texts, as Christians have been asked to do for Jews.
“We too must address blemishes in our sacred texts,” he said.
Cardinal Keeler, who said he knew Pius XII as a young seminarian, said it concerned him when people who didn’t know the pope at all criticize him.
He agreed, however, that more scholarly research is required beyond the Vatican archives, including Polish, French and Italian government records and those of individuals.