Guidelines for the Evaluation of the Treatment of Jews and Judaism in Catechetical Materials

Dr. Eugene Fisher
Associate Director, The Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference

Originally published in Faith Without Prejudice [Paulist Press]

I. Official Sources for the Criteria Developed Here

1. The Second Vatican Council, "Declaration on Non-Christian Religions" (Nostra Aetate), Section 4, October 28, 1965.

2. "Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations," Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, 1967.

3. "Pastoral Orientations on the Attitude of Christians to Judaism," Episcopal Committee of the Roman Catholic Bishops of France, April 1973.

4. "Statement of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USA) on the Middle East," November 13,1973.

5. "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate," Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, January 2, 1975.

6. "Statement on Catholic-Jewish Relations," NCCB, November 20, 1975.

II. The Criteria

A. The Hebrew Scriptures

1. Does the catechesis affirm the value of the whole Bible? Does it show that, far from being rendered void by the New Testament, the Hebrew covenant remains in fact the root, the source, the foundation and the promise of the new covenant?

2. Are the inspiration and validity of the Hebrew Scriptures recognized in their own right?

3. Do lessons picture the Hebrew Bible as a source of inspiration for Jesus, the New Testament authors and later Christian writers? Do the materials show the Hebrew Scriptures to be the Scripture of the New Testament Church?

4. Do lessons set the Hebrew Scriptures and the Jewish tradition founded on it against the New Testament in a false way?-i.e., are the Hebrew Scriptures pictured as constituting a religion of only justice, fear and legalism, with no appeal to the love of God and neighbor? (Cf. Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19: 18 as the source of Jesus' "law of love.")

5. Is the fact noted that the phrase "Old Testament" is seen by Jews as an insult to the continuing validity of the Hebrew Bible?

6. Is the religion of the Hebrew Scriptures presented as dynamic and currently valid or is it seen as dead and anachronistic, merely a precursor of the religion of the New Testament?

7. How are the personalities of the Hebrew Scriptures treated? Is their Jewishness noted or are they pictured as "hidden" Christians?

8. Are the Hebrew Scriptures used in such a way that the children can identify with Hebrew biblical figures such as Abraham as models of faith? Or is the story told in such a way that the "fickleness" of the people is stressed?

B. Judaism in New Testament Times

1. Does lesson material indicate that the Judaism which gave birth to Christianity was dynamic and vital? Or is it falsely presented as degenerate, legalistic and materialistic?

2. Is attention paid to the multiplicity of sects and groups within Judaism in Jesus' time? Are these described fully developed or only in negative stereotypes?

3. Is the full range of Jewish beliefs regarding the Messiah adequately presented? Or are Jewish messianic expectations reduced to the notion of awaiting a purely materialistic, earthly king?

4. Is mention made of the achievements of Judaism during New Testament times? (e.g., the development of the synagogue, the literature of the period, Qumran, rabbinic works)?

C. The Pharisees

1. Are the Pharisees treated fairly or only as a negative stereotype? As legalistic? As all the same (e.g., see the different Pharisaic movements such as the schools of Hillel and Shammai)?

2. Are the negative images ascribed to the Pharisees then applied to "the Jews" as a whole?

3. Are the revolutionary religious and social achievements of the Pharisees and their role as preservers of Judaism after the destruction of the temple explained?

4. Is mention made of positive relations between Jesus and the Pharisees (e.g., Lk. 11:37-44, 13:31; In. 9:13; Nicodemus) and between the Pharisees and the early Church (e.g., Acts 5:34-39; 23:6-9)?

D. Jesus and the Jews

1. Is the Jewishness of Jesus clearly stated and used where appropriate to explain his behavior? His understanding of and adherence to the Jewish Law? That he considered himself a faithful Jew?

2. Do the lessons state or imply that "the Jews" rejected Jesus, despite the fact that most Jews could never have heard of him in his lifetime? And that the apostles and early disciples were all Jews?

3. When phrases like "some Jews" or "some Jewish leaders" are used, is adequate teacher background given in the manuals so that teachers will know why these terms are used and be able to prepare students for encounters with usages of the term "the Jews" in John's Gospel and elsewhere at Sunday Mass?

4. Is Jesus pictured as opposing or denouncing the Judaism of his time? Or is he seen in context-as a Jew-who thought and debated within the Jewish milieu, teaching quite often in the manner of the Pharisees?

E. The Crucifixion

1. Is it made clear that "what happened at his passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today" (Vatican II).

2. Are the results of recent biblical scholarship, showing the historical complexities of the New Testament portrayals of the trial and crucifixion, used in the text and especially in the teachers' manuals?

3. Is the role of Pilate whitewashed? Is it made clear that crucifixion was a Roman method of execution? That the chief priest was a Roman appointee?

4. Is it shown that the New Testament does not mention the Pharisees as being involved in his arrest, trial or death?

5. Is guilt for the crucifixion consistently placed where it belongs theologically-on all humanity? Or are "the Jewish leaders" actually blamed in concrete descriptions of the passion?

6. Is the notion that Jewish suffering is the result of divine retribution for their alleged rejection of Jesus explicitly condemned-or at least never mentioned or in any way implied?

F. Rabbinic and Medieval Judaism

1. Does the treatment of Judaism cease with the New Testament period?

2. Are Jews mentioned in Church history only as victims of persecution? Or are the significant Jewish contributions to Western, "Christian" history treated and fairly developed?

3. Is there mention of the great religious significance of the Mishnah and the Talmud? Of the medieval Jewish communities of Europe? Of the role of Spanish Jewry in developing medieval Scholastic philosophy and Arabic thought for Christian Europe?

4. Is the story of Europe only the story of "Christendom?" Is the influence of Jewish intellectual and theological thought on Christian thought (e.g., Maimonides on Aquinas, Spinoza on Pascal, Jewish linguistic and biblical studies on Erasmus, etc.) presented? Jewish mysticism?

5. Is medieval Jewish "ghetto" life seen in all its vitality and creativity? Jewish emancipation beginning with the French Enlightenment in 1790?

6. 1n short, is Jewish history treated only as a passive backwater of Christian history , or is the true role of Judaism in post-biblical history portrayed in a positive manner? Is it treated at all?

7. If not treated, so that there is a long silence between the New Testament and the Holocaust in the twentieth century except as victims of persecution, is there an underlying message that there is somehow a link between the last appearance of the Jews as "Christ killers" and their next appearance as suffering victims?

G. Reformation to Twentieth Century

1. Is the contribution of Jewish thought and culture to the Reformation (both Protestant and Catholic) and to the Enlightenment presented?

2. Is the role of Jewry in European economic development in this period made clear, without false stereotypy? The role of Jews in the discovery and growth of America? Involvement in the growth or trade unions?

3. Is there any presentation of profound Jewish religious movements such as Hasidism? Jewish philosophy and poetry that influenced current thought such as Heinrich Heine, Martin Buber, and Franz Rosenzweig? Are great scientists such as Freud and Einstein portrayed as Jews?

4. Is there an appreciation for the development of and differences between Reform, Orthodox and Conservative Jewry, especially in the United States? The development of Zionism in this country (Brandeis, etc.)?

5. Any reference to the Hebraic and biblical origins or much of the thought of early American colonists like the Puritans as well as that of the framers of the Constitution?

H. Christian Persecution of the Jews

1. Do texts treating of Church history honestly admit to Christian mistreatment of the Jews during
various periods in history? Do they urge repentance?

2. Are the "excesses" of the Crusades and the Inquisition treated with candor or is an attempt made to cover over or even justify these events?

3. Is the history of Christian anti-Semitism clearly traced, along with its consequences in pogroms, ghettos, etc.?

4. On the other hand, are the efforts of some of the popes, such as Gregory the Great, to stop the practice of forced conversion and protect the Jews mentioned as models of a more Christian practice?

I. The Holocaust

1. Are the implications of this event for traditional Christian understandings clearly dealt with, at least in the upper grade levels?

2. Is the fact that the destruction of six million Jews look place in supposedly Christian countries admitled?

3. Are Christian heroes like Franz Jagerstatter who died at the hands of Hitler praised for their courage?

4. Is the Church's silence regarding the death camps handled in a balanced and fair manner?

5. Are the more recent forms of anti-Semitism such as "anti-Zionism" analyzed and clearly condemned?

6. Is the Holocaust literature written by Jewish survivors of the death camps used where appropriate (liturgies, etc.)? Are the authors presented as Jewish (e.g., Anne Frank, Eli Wiesel, Viktor Frankl, etc.)?

J. The Modern State of Israel

1. Is the Jewish concept of peoplehood fully explained -i.e., "a peoplehood that is not solely racial, ethnic or religious but in a sense a composite of all three" (NCCB, November 1975)?

2. Do the texts help students to understand "the link between land and people which Jews have expressed in their writings and worship throughout two millennia as a longing for the homeland, holy Zion" (NCCB, November 1975)?

3. Are students prepared to understand with sympathy the view of American Jews with regard to the state of Israel in such a way that they will be able to enter into dialogue with Jews even if they do not themselves accept the biblical/theological rationale?

4. Is the validity of the existence of the Jewish state or Israel clearly affirmed along with an affirmation or the rights of the Palestinians (NCCB, November 1975)?

5. If mention is made of current Israeli-Arab conflicts, is an adequate background for both sides or the issue presented?

6. Is an attempt made to explain Zionism as a movement for liberation in reaction to both European and Moslem oppression?

K. The Relationship Between the Covenants

1. Is it made clear that the Jewish covenant with God was not abrogated with the establishment of the Christian covenant in Christ? That we are the "wild shoots" which have been "grafted" unto Israel (Rom. II)?

2. Is the point clearly made that still today "God holds the Jews most dear" and that "he does not repent of the gifts he makes or of the calls he issues" ( Nostra Aetate; cf. Romans 11)? Is the permanent and continuing election of the Jewish people, i.e., the on-going role of Judaism in the divine plan, clearly seen as an essential aspect of a valid Christian theological understanding of Judaism (cf. French bishops, 1973; Vatican 11, De Ecclesia. n. 16)?

3. Is an attempt made to see this continuing salvific role of Judaism in the world on Jewish as well as Christian terms-for example, as the "sanctification of the name" (French bishops, 1973)?

4. Even if not fully developed, is an attempt made to frame a positive theological understanding of Jewish-Christian relations for today based on the above biblical and official sources while avoiding indifferentism?

5. Are adequate activities, information and attitudinal approaches developed appropriate to each age level by which Christians can have the opportunity, as the Vatican Guidelines stipulate, "to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience"?

III. General and Technical Aspects

1. Does the overall scope and age sequence of the series attempt to integrate understandings of Jews and Judaism throughout the lessons, where appropriate'? Or are all positive references to Jewish history, beliefs and customs in the post-biblical period concentrated in a single chapter of a single text?

2. How do the pictures, photos and other illustrations image Jews? Do pictures which involve clearly distinguishable Jewish figures show them as "bad guys" or "good guys"-or a mixture of both?

3. Are Jesus, Mary and the apostles pictured as Jewish? Any illustrations of Jesus with forelocks or wearing a prayer shawl, perhaps? Phylacteries?

4. Does the text or series tend to be overwhelmingly negative in its statements, or is it simply silent on crucial issues, periods and themes'? (If the latter, supplementary material can easily be supplied on such themes as the history of Judaism after the New Testament period, the modern state of Israel, Jewish feasts and festivals, the Holocaust, etc.)

5. Do high school texts attempt to overcome previous distortions'?

6. Does the series on whatever level try to replace the negative myths with a positive approach to Jews and Judaism or does it merely try to avoid negatives?

7. Is background given to teachers and students for understanding possible misconceptions derived from biblical passages used in the liturgy, e.g., is sound historical background for Jesus' passion introduced when treating of Holy Week themes?

8. Are the Judaic origins of sacraments such as the Eucharist and baptism made clear throughout the series and fully explained in the manuals for teachers? Are Jewish feasts and customs explained or used as examples of prayer and celebration'?

9. Are the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent documents such as the Guidelines of the American bishops referred to and explained in the teachers' manuals, and embodied in the texts?

10. Are Jewish sayings and tales, such as those of the Talmud, the Midrash and the Hasidim, used in appropriate places and correctly identified?