A century ago, Vienna Chief Rabbi Moritz Guedemann, a liberal, educated man, explained that anti-Semitism derives from the psychological tension created within Christianity by its relations with Judaism.
Using the vocabulary of Sigmund Freud, who lived in the same city and period, Guedemann analyzed the "subconscious" of the anti-Semitism that prevailed in Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "The Christian kneels before a Jew's image, rubs his hands before a Jewess' (Mary) image, Jesus' apostles are Jews and so are the psalms he recites. Only few would be capable of overcoming these contrasts, and most of them seek to relieve the tension by means of anti-Semitic acts. Since they are obliged to worship a Jew as a god, they take revenge on the rest of the Jews, whom they describe as sons of Satan."
It was only in 1965, 20 years after the Holocaust, that the Catholic Church begin to deal seriously with the anti-Semitic components at the center of Christian theology. Today in Rome and next week at the President's residence in Jerusalem and in dozens of events throughout the world, Jews and Catholics will mark the 40th anniversary of the Vatican's adoption of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), the landmark document that launched a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people.
The Vatican's declaration on the relationship of the Church with non-Christian religions established for the first time, following a historic gathering of the Vatican Council, that the Jews must be exonerated of the charge of deicide and that incitement against them must stop.
The 1965 promulgation, and the less-known interpretation of it in the Church's 1974 directives, emphasizes the new approach's implications for religious texts and prayers in churches. After centuries of ignoring the issue, the Church declared unequivocally that Jesus and the apostles were Jews, thus reaffirming Christianity's Jewish roots.
The psychological conflict in the position of the Catholic Church, which represents more than a billion worshipers, derives from the Christian doctrine that maintains that because of the Jews' sins, God repented choosing them and made Christians the chosen ones. They are the "real Israel." Therefore, Jews were doomed to be humiliated and degraded until they convert to Christianity.
For centuries, the Catholic Church suppressed the story of Jesus' birth and Christianity's Jewish roots. Only the shock of the Holocaust, followed by decades of evading responsibility, brought the Vatican to acknowledge, albeit partially, the responsibility of Christians - but not the Church - for the connection between hating the Jews and the policy of genocide.
Addressing this required psychological therapy with regard to the unconscious rivalry for the birthright and role of chosen people; for a conservative institution like the Catholic Church, the change in doctrine seemed impossible. The turning point began with the Church's recognition in 1965 that the Jews were still "chosen" by God and with the declaration by Pope John Paul II in Rome's central synagogue in 1986 that the Jews are the Christians' elder brothers.
The Vatican's establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993 and the pope's official visit here in 2000 symbolized the shattering of another ancient taboo - the recognition of the Jews' return to their homeland under Jewish sovereignty.
Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," which presented the anti-Semitic version of the crucifixion to hundreds of millions in 2004, proved that even changes to the doctrine are not irreversible. Gibson and his Holocaust-denier father are members of an ultraconservative Catholic movement that rejects the 1965 changes.
Granted, despite the brutal violence in the movie and the stereotypical, Der Stuermer-like presentation of the Jews, there are no signs that viewers emerged from the cinema calling, "Death to Jews." However, we must not forget that these are powerful messages that are absorbed with even greater force than church sermons, and could lead to touble in times of crisis.
John Paul II's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, was the cardinal in charge of interpreting Catholic doctrine and was partner to the changes regarding Judaism. As head of the committee on doctrine, he made sure to point out that Jews who do not convert can not be redeemed - only Christians can.
Hence the importance of the intention of Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligous Consultations, to demand of the Vatican tonight to clarify that they have struck their ancient aspiration to convert Jews from the Church's agenda. He will also demand that they instruct future clergy students in this spirit.
Catholic theologians have already spoken of the need to remove the chosen people issue from inter-religious debate. The American Bishops' Organization has provided a theological solution - defining the Jews' historic role as witnesses to the first choice of the creator of the world and his moral edicts.
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