A Vatican document which revolutionized Catholic attitudes towards the Jewish religion 50 years ago has been translated into Hebrew for the first time, bringing renewed hopes that the message will spread and influence Jewish-Christian relations today.
The translated Nostra Aetate (Latin for “In our Time”) was presented to President Reuven Rivlin at a Jerusalem ceremony on March 21. The document, known as the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions”, was originally adopted by bishops present at the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965.
This document is a formal declaration by the Catholic Church regarding the way Christianity views people of other religions.
It acknowledges the singular origin of all humans and that all people seeking affinity with God have a similar goal. With regard to Jews, the document states “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God” and states that anti-Semitism is unacceptable. Additionally, it states that Jews, as a people, cannot historically be held responsible for the death of Jesus.
“The translation of this ground-breaking document will enable Israelis and other Hebrew speakers to better understand just how far the Catholic Church has come in its desire to promote religious tolerance in the world,” commented Roni Segal, academic adviser for The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, an online language academy, to Breaking Israel News.
“As more people learn Hebrew and study ancient Jewish texts, the chances of putting the message of the Nostra Aetate into practice will only increase.”
Though a crucial document for Christian-Jewish relations, the Latin Nostra Aetate goes largely unknown. Aside from religion scholars, few have even heard of the document. Jews are perhaps even more clueless about it than many Christian laymen, thus creating the need for the document to be translated into Hebrew.
Professor Dina Porat of the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University led the project to translate this work into Hebrew, as well as other related documents concerning the relationship between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church. Her book, published in 2015, brought the Nostra Aetate to light 50 years after it was originally written.
By presenting the book to President Rivlin in the presence of Christian dignitaries and religious leaders, Porat hopes that the Vatican’s message will be put into practice.
An expert on the Holocaust and on the topic of anti-Semitism, Porat recently lead a team of Tel Aviv researchers who found that there was a 45 percent increase of anti-Semitic instances on US university campuses in 2016. Her ongoing concern about modern day anti-Semitism and her drive to study and educate about the Holocaust led to the translation of the Nostra Aetate.
Religious scholars, rabbis and other clergy attended the ceremony hosted by Rivlin. Among the honorable guests were Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa; an expert on Jewish-Christian relations and International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, Rabbi David Rosen; Italian Ambassador to Israel, the Papal Nuncio, and Israel’s Ambassador to the Vatican.
Describing the contents of the translated book, Porat explained, “So that the picture would be as full as possible, we also included speeches by the Pope and his two predecessors; speeches given in the Great Synagogue in Rome, the notes they placed in the Western Wall, and conversely speeches in Yad Vashem, and in Auschwitz – we also translated them all. They are all written in a warm and respectful language toward the Jewish people.”
With Hebrew being a more commonly accessible language than Latin, Jews and non-Jews alike now have the opportunity to study the Nostra Aetate. President Rivlin referred to the document as revolutionary and attached great value to its translation into Hebrew.
“Unfortunately, 50 years [after this document was published] this revolution is still silent,” said Rivlin. “Most of the Jews in Israel and around the world know very little about this deep change regarding the Jewish faith, the Jewish people, and the Jewish state. And, being honest, I am not sure how many Christians around the world know about this important process. I hope this book will help more than a little, by ensuring Hebrew readers know more and understand better the Catholic Church and its followers.”