VOICES TOGETHER: Pioneers in Modern Jewish-Christian Dialogue

“... you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in … to share the rich root of the olive tree … remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.” — Romans 11:17-18
“No responsible person could dispute that more progress has been made in [Christian]-Jewish relations in the last fifty years than was made in the previous two millennia.”

— Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, speaking in the year 2000

There are many high-profile figures in Jewish-Christian relations. In Voices Together, the Interfaith Ministry of Scarboro Missions in cooperation with Salt + Light Media highlights four of these individuals: What are some of the “catalyst” factors that led them to become involved? What are some of their concrete contributions and what messages from their life and work are of ongoing relevance for this dialogue today and in the future?

It is our aim with these four short videos, that these individuals become better known by a younger generation, who are perhaps less familiar with the development of this dialogue in the last 50 or 60 years:

Dr. Victor Goldbloom
Sister Charlotte Klein, NDS
Dr. Mary Boys, SNJM
Dr. Edward Kessler

Through these videos, we invite you to explore the lives and stories of four individuals whose efforts have helped to bring about a historic transformation, which is continuing in our own lifetime.

There is still much to be done in this field. Jewish-Christian dialogue has not lost any relevance or importance. Jewish-Christian relations remain a key aspect of our theological life, and essential to our self-understanding as Christians in many areas of theology.

We are excited to realize that the Christian relationship to Judaism is a broad and stimulating field, with many “angles” to be explored and pursued. We hope that our audiences will be empowered to appreciate how important the influence of a single person can be, and also be encouraged to learn more, and become involved in local dialogue efforts where they live.

Christian-Jewish Relations

A Transformed Relationship

The history of relations between Christians and Jews has often been bitter, harsh and violent—a relationship of distance rather than of nearness. Beginning in the wake of the Second World War and the Shoah (Holocaust), Christians around the world have been engaged in a dramatic re-thinking of their relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people. This dramatic transformation is virtually unparalleled in religious history. As Pope Francis said in 2015, “Our fragmented humanity, mistrust and pride have been overcome … in such a way that trust and fraternity between us have continued to grow. We are strangers no more, but friends, and brothers and sisters.”

The result has been a wonderful flourishing of dialogue and interfaith activity between these two ancient faith traditions, on the local, national and international levels.

This transformation was inspired in large part by the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 document Nostra Aetate (On the Church’s Relationship to Non-Christian Religions), and the many powerful statements, helpful guidelines and historic events that have flowed from it over the past half-century.

Voices Together highlights four individuals. On the Web site of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, you can learn about other pioneers and contemporary voices in modern Catholic-Jewish relations. (see the Resources Tab and click on Jeish-Christian Dialogue)

Scarboro Missions is pleased that it has been able to develop and share these resources in Jewish-Christian relations, for the use of students, educators and faith discussion groups in both the Jewish and Christian communities. We hope that they will help to make this progress better known, and to promote relationships of friendship, respect and mutuality which can build upon and deepen this dialogue.

About our logo

Rooted in the imagery of Paul’s New Testament letter to the Romans (chapters 9 to 11), the olive branch has become a potent symbol in the modern Jewish-Christian relationship. Since ancient times, the olive has been an important staple food, common to many cultures in the areas where Judaism and Christianity both arose and flourished. The Second Vatican Council’s declaration Nostra Aetate drew upon this biblical imagery, to remind Christians of their fundamental rootedness in Judaism, and to express the organic relationship of Judaism and Christianity, which continues to evolve in our time, in positive and lifegiving ways.

Jewish-Christian Dialogue
By Sr. Lucy Thorson, nds

In early October, Pope Francis sent out a message to his nearly 30 million Twitter followers: “Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury, but something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs”. It was an important reminder to people everywhere that dialogue is not something reserved for a select few academic theologians and high-level religious leaders, but a necessary component of what it means to be authentically religious, especially in a world where religious differences sometimes seem to be a primary source of tension and conflict. The message of religious divisions and violence gets perpetuated on a daily basis by much of the media. But, as Pope Francis knows well, there is another side to religious interactions—a path of respectful dialogue, learning, cooperation and friendship—and that is the model that he and many of the world’s religious leaders want us to hear, and to be inspired by.

Christians have been interacting with other religions since the beginning. But formal interreligious dialogue is a relatively modern idea, and in many ways what laid the foundations for it was the bitter experience of the Holocaust in Europe—the destruction of 6 million Jews and 5 million others—and a Christian recognition of how longstanding Christian concepts had been exploited to promote hatred against Jews. The “examination of conscience” that followed has led to a radical re-orientation of Christian thinking about Judaism, and a new respect for Judaism, both the ancient Judaism of the Bible, and Judaism as it continues to be practiced today. Pope Francis is a leader in that process, but he is also building upon a substantial foundation of official Church teaching that includes Pope St. John XXIII, Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. Today, interreligious dialogue (and especially Jewish-Christian dialogue) is a key component of Catholic teaching: “something which our world … increasingly needs”.

As part of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Vatican II’s declaration on non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate, 1965), which revolutionized the relations of the Catholic Church with other religions and especially Judaism, the Interfaith Department of Scarboro Missions decided to develop a series of short biographies of a number of individuals who have made major contributions to modern Jewish-Christian dialogue. Now, with the assistance of Salt + Light Television, four of those biographies are being made into short documentary videos, to help educate both Christians and Jews about how far this dialogue has come, and the wonderful fruit it has borne. The subjects of the documentaries include:
  • Dr. Victor Goldbloom, a Montreal-born pediatrician who became the first Jew to serve in Quebec’s cabinet. A prominent political, religious and social figure, Dr. Goldbloom was knighted in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI for his leadership in the field of Jewish-Christian relations, which continued until his death in February 2016;
  • Sister Charlotte Klein, NDS, a German-born Sister of Sion who dedicated her adult life to educating Christians about Judaism, to eliminating vestiges of anti-Jewish thinking in liturgical and catechetical materials, and who worked to build bridges of respect and understanding with the Jewish community, in German and in the United Kingdom;
  • Dr. Edward Kessler, the founder and director of Cambridge University’s Woolf Institute, which promotes inquiry into the relations among the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Dr. Kessler has played a pioneering role in developing interfaith educational materials for schools, community organizations and university students, and is very active in promoting interreligious dialogue on an international level;
  • Dr. Mary Boys, SNJM, a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and a theology professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Dr. Boys’s book, Has God Only One Blessing?, explores some of the roots of Christian reflection on Judaism, and highlights a number of important steps that have been undertaken to improve relations between Jews and Christians.
By bringing together these fascinating stories and the best of modern communications technology, we hope to honour the contributions of these individuals, to emphasize the contemporary transformation in Jewish-Christian relations, and inspire more people to delve into this amazing field of interreligious dialogue—a sign of promise and hope for our broken world, and a reminder of God’s love for all God’s children.