Melinda Henneberger :- Vatican Says Jews’ Wait for Messiah Is Validated by the Old Testament


This article is almost twenty years old.

At the rate at which new articles are being published, twenty years is almost what a century was a few decades ago.



Melinda Henneberger, New York Times

The Vatican has issued what some Jewish scholars are calling an important document that explicitly says, ”The Jewish wait for the Messiah is not in vain.”

The scholarly work, effectively a rejection of and apology for the way some Christians have viewed the Old Testament, was signed by the pope’s theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The document says Jews and Christians in fact share the wait for the Messiah, though Jews are waiting for the first coming, and Christians for the second.

”The difference consists in the fact that for us, he who will come will have the same traits of that Jesus who has already come,” wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

At least one Jewish scholar said the new document is a marked departure from ”Dominus Iesus,” a study of the redemptive role of Jesus that was released last year in Cardinal Ratzinger’s name and that fanned disputes between Catholic and Jewish scholars.

The new document also says Catholics must regard the Old Testament as ”retaining all of its value, not just as literature, but its moral value,” said Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the pope’s spokesman. ”You cannot say, ‘Now that Jesus has come, it becomes a second-rate document.’ ”

”The expectancy of the Messiah was in the Old Testament,” he went on, ”and if the Old Testament keeps its value, then it keeps that as a value, too. It says you cannot just say all the Jews are wrong and we are right.”

Asked whether that could be taken to mean that the Messiah may or may not have come, Dr. Navarro-Valls said no. ”It means it would be wrong for a Catholic to wait for the Messiah, but not for a Jew,” he said.

The document, the result of years of work by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, goes on to apologize for the fact that certain New Testament passages that criticize the Pharisees, for example, had been used to justify anti-Semitism.

Everything in the report is now considered part of official church doctrine, Dr. Navarro-Valls said.

The Rev. Albert Vanhoye, a Jesuit scholar who worked on the commission, said the project sees Scripture as a link between Christians and Jews, and the New Testament as a continuation of the Old, though divergent in obvious ways.

A number of Jewish scholars and leaders said they were pleased but stunned and would have to take some time to digest fully the complicated, 210-page study, published in French and Italian.

”This is something altogether new, especially compared with the earlier document from Ratzinger that was so controversial,” said Rabbi Alberto Piattelli, a professor and leader of the Jewish community in Rome.

”This latest declaration is a step forward” in closing the wounds opened by that earlier document, Rabbi Piattelli said. ”It recognizes the value of the Jewish position regarding the wait for the Messiah, changes the whole exegesis of biblical studies and restores our biblical passages to their original meaning. I was surprised.”

Prof. Michael R. Marrus, dean of graduate studies at the University of Toronto, who specializes in the history of the Holocaust, was also complimentary. Professor Marrus was among the Jewish members of a panel studying the Vatican’s role in the Holocaust, but the group was disbanded after disputes between Catholic and Jewish scholars.

”This is important,” he said, ”and all the more so because it comes from Cardinal Ratzinger, who is not considered the most liberal spokesman for the church. It represents real and remarkable progress on the Catholic-Jewish front,” even as the dispute over the Catholic Church’s wartime history seems to be hardening, he added.

At least initially, the only voices of dissent were on the Catholic side, where some traditionalists said they felt the church under Pope John Paul II had done altogether too much apologizing already.

Vittorio Messori, a Catholic writer and commentator, said he respects the pope but ”his apologies leave me perplexed.”

”He’s inspired and has his reasons,” Mr. Messori said, ”but what’s dangerous in these apologies is that he seems to say the church itself has been wrong in its teaching,” rather than just some within the church.

The oddest thing about the document from the Jewish perspective is that it was so quietly released. It has been in bookstores here since November, but as a small book titled ”The Jewish People and the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” it drew no notice until the Italian news agency ANSA printed a small report on it Wednesday.

Tullia Zevi, a longtime Jewish community leader and commentator here, said: ”The widespread opinion on the document is that it’s trying to question the validity of past attitudes of the church, and seems an attempt to move us closer to together. So why was such an important document kept secret?”

One possibility, she said, was that the church was trying to avoid criticism within its own ranks.

Vatican officials, however, say it was not announced because it was seen mainly as a theological study intended for other theologians.

The Vatican is governed by tradition and habit, and is thus quite able to keep silent about even important new policies. In December, for example, word emerged without fanfare of new rules on the treatment of priests accused of pedophilia.
Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, a left-leaning Catholic group with a history of mediating international conflicts and promoting religious dialogue, said he was most impressed by the depth of the new document.

”This should be reassuring” to Jews, he said, ”especially because these last years have not been easy.”

He said the document in no way backtracks from ”Dominus Iesus” (”The Lord Jesus”), but does represent a significant shift.

”In the past, we’ve talked about an ancient, common heritage,” he said. ”But now, for the first time, we’re talking about our future waiting for the Messiah and the end of time.”

Waiting together?

”No,” Mr. Riccardi said. ”But waiting close to each other.’



Again, twenty years is an eternity.

Having said that, it shows and points how much the Mother-lode is doing in these important areas :-

  1. Closing and Binding up
    • Making sure that portrayal of Pharisees & Scribes in the Bible is not cover and justification for prevalence mistreatment of the messiah’s own tribe
  2. The Catholic Church has been accused of not doing enough to protect the Jews in Europe pre and during the 1st and 2nd world wars
    • Apologized for it
    • Saying we worked behind the scene


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