By Judith Sudilovsky
JERUSALEM — Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, was warmly welcomed by a largely Jewish audience to an intimate gathering focusing on Jewish-Catholic relations.
Sharing the stage with him were two rabbis: Austrian-born Rabbi Mordechai Piron, who was Israel’s second chief military rabbi and today serves as the chairman for the Israeli Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations, and Rabbi David Bollag, a fellow Swiss and a lecturer and senior research fellow at the Institute of Jewish-Christian Research in Lucerne.
During the May 24 event at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Cardinal Koch’s message reiterated his statements to journalists a week ago emphasizing the binding nature of the Second Vatican Council and “Nostra Aetate.”
Rabbi Piron, a nonagenarian, reminded the audience of times when any encounter between Jews and the Catholic Church had been “a tragic and difficult moment; a reality of blood and tears and persecution.”
“But now all this has changed, totally and radically,” said Rabbi Piron.
While denying any direct connection to the Nazi Holocaust in which some 6 million Jews were murdered, Cardinal Koch said that Christians did not display the “vigor and vitality” one would expect from them in opposing Hitler’s regime, which Cardinal Koch said was also anti-Christian.
“So we Christians have every reason to remember our complicity,” he said.
Rabbi Bollag said he felt there was a direct connection between the long history of Christian anti-Semitism and the Nazi killing machine. He said he felt troubled by the Vatican’s return to limited use of the Tridentine Mass and Pope Benedict XVI’s rewriting of a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews.
“I have no intention as a Jew of suggesting to the Vatican that or even how it should change this prayer,” he said. “It is our duty to respond and to express how we hear this prayer. We hear it as a regression … to a very painful episode of relations between Christians and Jews. I admit we are oversensitive a bit, but we are traumatized,” said Rabbi Bollag.
A young Israeli woman, Hana Bendcowsky, program director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian relations, noted that as an Israeli Jew she no longer felt traumatized and wondered what were the steps specifically Israeli Jews needed to take so that young people could learn about Christianity.
“In our 2,000-year history in reality we are still strangers to each other,” she said.