Rabbi David Rosen, who received a papal Knighthood in 2005 for his work in Catholic-Jewish relations, spoke in a Q&A led by President John J. DeGioia in Riggs Library on Tuesday. The event, titled “Achievements, Challenges and Experiences in Catholic-Jewish Relations,” focused on Rosen’s career as a rabbi, his thoughts on past accomplishments in Catholic-Jewish relations, and ways to better these relations today.
“We have achieved so much that the capacity for… a mutually respectful conversation we can take for granted,” Rosen, currently the International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, said.
His interest in these conversations and interfaith relations grew during his time as the Senior Rabbi of the largest Jewish congregation in South Africa. He was attempting to create a dialogue between different religious communities in the area, and he approached a leader of the Dutch Reformed Church who told Rosen that he would not participate because Jews did not believe in Christ. He also expressed genuine concern that Rosen would go to hell.
Rosen, who had never experienced anti-Semitism until then, recognized that a lack of awareness would not ameliorate such instances of prejudice, and that full participation by the religious communities was necessary. He jokingly told him, “You have to come to our meetings because I’m going to give you the opportunity to convert me.” He found that the religious organizations had common ground through a commitment to social justice, which was instrumental in establishing a degree of respect.
But he believes that the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, was “the primary, central event” in transforming Catholic-Jewish relations specifically. In 1965, council wrote the Nostra Aetate, a controversial document that stated that Jews at the time of Christ and Jews today are no more responsible than Christians for his death.
Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel, during which he visited the Western Wall, was also instrumental in the transformation, he said. He became the first pope to visit a synagogue, as well. He joked that Jewish people were so moved that if he had stayed in Israel any longer they would have all converted to Catholicism.
“It was less that they in themselves indicated anything new,” Rosen said. “[These actions] incarnated the transformations that had taken place.”
Rosen also recognized that the obligation to “reach out” lies disproportionately on the Christian side because of the religion’s size, power, and history, but that they have done so well. Doctrinally, Rosen said that there is little more to be done in terms of bettering interactions between the two religions, but educationally, he believes there is some work to be done.
He said that Catholics grow up with respect for Judaism, and that some of the religious teaching materials could even be used for Jewish religious students. But there are some texts that use “old languages and images,” and he would like to see “a more assertive approach coming from Rome” to change this in the grassroots levels of the religion.
“It’s one thing to transform things on the theological level. It’s another to internalize it,” he said.
Photo from Flickr user jerushalom during the Third World Congress of Imams and Rabbis