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home : opinion : our neighbors' faith

11/5/2015 9:00:00 AM
OUR NEIGHBORS' FAITH
Does 'In our times' mean, 'now and forevermore?'
BY RABBI ROBERT KASMAN


The words "Nostra Aetate" mean, "In our times." These are the first words of the document published by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, announcing change. "In our times..." was intended to mean that the council was breaking from the past.

Part of what they were breaking from was an indifference to the persecution of Jews. These words were a tacit acknowledgement about the times that had preceded.

In the case of many representatives of the Catholic Church, "Nostra Aetate" was a sincere repentance. They knew that representatives of the Church -- priests, nuns, holy fathers and mothers, even bishops and popes -- had, over centuries, stood indifferent to evils directed at Jews.

Jews had been systematically persecuted, victimized, denied the right to live and even the right to defend their own lives. The silence pained loving, caring leaders of the Catholic Church. They believed that for the Church to stand silent had been wrong.

"In our times" meant, to them, "Our times are going to be better. Not in our times will we be silent while Jews are persecuted."

The document says this explicitly: "Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."

Here in the Capital District of New York, our Jewish-Catholic dialogue remembers and recounts as a landmark the day when then-Bishop Howard J. Hubbard stood and acknowledged this. Representing the Catholic Church, he apologized to the remnant of 20th-century Judaism that has survived here.

He was able to represent the whole Church honestly on that day, because the Church had published the "In our times" document, "Nostra Aetate."

So, what does the 50-year-old "In our times" statement mean to me now? Forgive me for turning back the question, but: What does it mean to the priests of the Capital District? What does it mean to the Bishop of Albany? Does it mean "in those times" 50 years ago? Are those times finished, expired -- or does "Nostra Aetate" mean, "From their times forward to our times, now and beyond"? Does it represent a permanent change? I was not at the "Nostra Aetate" celebration Oct. 25 in Albany, because my wife and I were in Israel. I'd never before packed and checked to see if pepper spray could go in my luggage.

You may not know this, because there is still some silence about the persecution of Jews, but as I write this, there have been more than 30 consecutive days of stabbings of random Jews on the streets in Israel. You may not know that the targets have included small children and the elderly. Training videos are posted online with instructions on finding vulnerable Jews, on doing the most damage.

You may not know that the last rocket attack on a Jewish civilian target was Oct. 10...that there were four rockets targeting civilians that day...and that there were no reprisals. Nor were there reprisals on the previous attack, nor the one before.

You may not know because, if there is no reprisal, there is nothing to publish. If there isn't a story about a cycle of violence, there is no story.

But maybe you do know. "Nostra Aetate," to me, was a promise that the Catholic Church would no longer stand silent while Jews were victimized. So, the test of "Nostra Aetate" is whether the Church is still standing silent.

Murderers are killing Jews who believe in a two-state solution, or are too young to have an opinion on the issue. The rockets from Gaza are directed at Jews even if they live within the 1967 borders set for them. This is the anti-Semitism that "Nostra Aetate" promised to oppose.

You know better than me about "Nostra Aetate." What are your priests and deacons saying about this? What has your Bishop said? Pope Francis had the ear of the entire world at the United Nations; what did he say about the rise of anti-Semitism, about the declaration by the Iranian leadership to kill Jews everywhere?

I call upon you to say that "In our times" means, "In our times and beyond." Don't just say nice things about the history of Jewish-Catholic dialogue in our region. I don't expect the Catholic Church to end anti-Semitism -- but don't be silent in the face of the return of normalized Jew hatred worldwide.

(Rabbi Kasman is from Temple Beth El in Troy.)





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