Fifty Years Since Nostra Aetate

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate
with Rabbi Abraham Skorka – the Pope’s Rabbi Friend –
and Bishop Barry Knestout

Rabbi Dr. SkorkaJanuary 20, 2015 – Today, the Masorti Olami Jewish conservative community at ADAS Israel Congregation in Northwest, Washington, DC, hosted a community wide conversation with Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka and Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout of the Archdiocese of Washington. Rabbi Skorka is most widely known for being Pope Francis’ personal rabbi friend who co-authored a book on interfaith dialogue with him entitled, On Heaven and Earth (published in Spanish in 2010 and in English in 2013). The event was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington (ADW), the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), and the Marshall T. Meyer- Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano.

The topic of conversation was the Commemoration of the 50th Jubilee Anniversary of Nostra Aetate – the Second Vatican Council declaration on the Relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions (promulgated October 28, 1965). Nostra Aetate marks the beginning of a new era of dialogue between the Catholic Church and other world religions, but particularly with the Jewish People. The council fathers recognized that there existed between the Church and the Jewish People a “bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock” [4].

The early subcommittees that forged the document Nostra Aetate met during the airing of the Adolf Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem (from April 11, 1961 to June 1, 1962). The Eichmann Trial introduced the Holocaust into the historical, educational, legal, and cultural consciousness of the world and focused world attention on the suffering and torment of the Jewish people, and by extension, every victim of injustice.

The sad historical reality of anti-Semitism in Christian Europe forced the need to denounce the charge of “deicide” against the Jewish People as a whole. The additional ominous context of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, added to the mood in which the document was formed.

In spite of these troubling contexts, Nostra Aetate, which means “in our times”, begins with a hopeful perspective on what can be accomplished by people of faith – “In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship” [1].

The declaration then takes on a profound anthropological key asking the questions – “What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is the moral good?… And finally, What is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence; whence do we come, and whence are we going?” [1].

These profound questions are, in a world of increasing moral relativism and therefore increasing destructive personalities (what social psychologist Erich Fromm called “Necrophilous characters”), even more relevant for us today.