Rabbi Daniel Friedman

Rabbi Daniel Friedman

December 7, 2015

Catholics and Jews have a lot in common, says Rabbi Daniel Friedman of the Beth Israel Synagogue.

"There is more that unite us than what divides us. We are very fortunate to be able to sit here and share together our Judeo-Christian heritage."

That's all thanks to Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.

"It has taken 50 years to watch our relationship blossom, to watch our relationship to come to fruition, to be able to sit like this together and wonder what the fuss was ever about because it seems like we have always gotten along."

But as Friedman said, it took Christians and Jews 2,000 years to get along. In a presentation marking 50 years of Nostra Aetate, the rabbi outlined centuries of persecution and exclusion.

More than 200 people attended the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate at Beth Israel Synagogue, including Auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman.

Friedman said he read part of Laudato Si', Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, and couldn't help but be amused at the pontiff speaking of "Judeo-Christian values."

"To hear Pope Francis refer to Judeo-Christian values is shocking and amusing because our Judeo-Christian relationship of thousands of years has been fraught with tension."


Friedman walked his audience through some of the history between Jews and Catholics "so we can truly appreciate what happened 50 years ago at the Second Vatican Council."

Christianity, he said, grew as a sect out of Judaism. Christians hoped all Jews would join. When that didn't happen, they appealed to the pagans.

Slowly but surely this new sect within Judaism took on a life of its own. "It bothered the Christians that Jews didn't get it. Why don't they understand that Jesus is our saviour, that Jesus is our Messiah, that this is the correct path?"

During the first period of Christianity, the Church Fathers developed a doctrine of the relationship between Jews and Christians. Jews who had failed to accept Christianity were wrong. They were put on this earth simply to bear witness to the origin of Christianity "but they should be reviled, repudiated, persecuted and oppressed." And so they were for 2,000 years.

In 1095, for example, Pope Urban II called upon Christians to rid Jerusalem of infidels. "Tens of thousands of Christians took up arms and began a crusade," lamented Friedman.


The rabbi said some Christians realized many "infidels" were also living in Europe and so they began the killing at home, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Jews and decimating hundreds of Jewish communities along the way.

In 1242, Pope Gregory IX declared that the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, should be burned. "Twelve thousand volumes of the Talmud were publicly burnt in Paris, France, in 1242," lamented Friedman.

"These were the days before the printing press, the days when it would take a scribe a year to painstakingly write the Talmud. We are talking 12,000 years' worth of work publicly burned in Paris at the decree of the pope."

In 1487, Pope Innocent VIII began the Spanish Inquisition and Jews were told to either convert or leave. "Those who were found to still be practising Judaism were burned at the stake in the name of Christianity. These were our Judeo-Christian relations."

Even though Pope Pius XII is not personally responsible for the Holocaust, Jews will forever remember the "deafening silence of the Vatican" during the Second World War, Friedman said.


"That was the Christianity that we knew for thousands of years," he lamented. But "everything was suddenly turned around" with the release of Nostra Aetate in 1965.

"With great courage, with great bravery, the Vatican did a 180 (degree turn) on Judeo-Christian relations."

In 1979, Pope John Paul II prayed at Auschwitz and asked for forgiveness. In 1986, he was the first pope to visit a synagogue. In 1993, the Holy See established diplomatic relations with Israel.

Friedman said the Jewish community and the Catholic Church now share a strong bond. "Today the Catholic Church, particularly here in North America, is a strong friend of Israel."

Catholics and Jews share Judeo-Christian values. "We stand shoulder to shoulder against the onslaught of secularism and pagan values that are attempting to take over our Judeo-Christian values," Friedman said.

"We share the Judeo-Christian values of life, whether at the beginning of life or at the end of life. We share traditional family values."