Tag Archives: Rabbi James Rudin

Three Catholic cardinals spur a sea change in religious history

“Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations,” by Rabbi James Rudin. Eerdmans. 157 pages. $18.00.

Rabbi James Rudin provides a well-researched yet easily accessible insider’s view on the how the Second Vatican Council’s statement against anti-Semitism came into being. In particular, he underscores the roles of two Influential men – Cushing and Spellman – in gaining support for the transformative “Nostra Aetate” document that finally became official Vatican policy in 1965. 

Rabbi Rudin prepares for his main narrative by backgrounding the history of Jewish-Catholic relationships over the centuries. In so doing he details the two major stumbling blocks to accommodation. One was the promulgation of the concept that Christianity, rooted in the covenant of the New Testament, rendered the Israelite covenant with the one God obsolete and irrelevant. The “replacement theology” that made Christianity spiritually the New Israel and the only path to redemption could never create harmonious relationships with a people who continued, in spite of all forces turned against it, to maintain itself as a viable, powerful faith tradition.

The second was the inherited view, based on faulty history, that the Jews were Christ-killers.

The author shows how both of these concepts nourished anti-Semitism and possibly even fed the flames of hatred that culminated in the Holocaust.

His detailed biographies of the theologically conservative Richard James Cushing and Francis Joseph Spellman, contemporaries with very different personalities, help Rabbi Rudin explain how each man prepared himself to take advantage of a moment in history at which their personal power, political influence, and largely unexpected commitment to a new vision could bring forth a strong majority vote in favor of the “Declaration on Jews and Judaism” that concluded the Second Vatican Council.

Rabbi James Rudin

Of particular interest is Rabbi Rudin’s section on “The Art of Romanita” in his biography of Cardinal Spellman. He defines this term “as the art of subtly bestowing personal favors to cement friendships” which later could be “converted into influence for the individuals who had provided the favors.” Rabbi Rudin writes, “Spellman practiced ‘Romanita’ better than anyone else within the global Catholic Church.” He used his mastery of this art quite well in the service of the Second Vatican Council.

Rabbi Rudin takes us through the endless rewrites (primarily by Cardinal Bea), the strenuous politicking, and the persuasive speeches of Cardinals Cushing and Spellman that eventuated in the “Nostra Aetate” and the opening of new possibilities. He also points out the fragility of this new teaching in the light of the engrained anti-Jewish hostility that is still part of Catholic tradition. The Declaration needed and still needs ongoing support, constant positive action by Catholic and Jewish leaders, to maintain its vision and force.

In this regard, the exemplary figure was the third American Catholic giant, Cardinal John O’Connor, whose efforts a generation later brought forth important results. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March  14, 2012 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the March 15 Naples and Palm Beach Gardens editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rabbi Rudin pdf

For more on Rabbi Rudin, click here: Florida Weekly – James Rudin Review  and here: Florida Weekly – James Rudin Profile

This piece was reprinted in the October 2012 issues of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota /Manatee).

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Fighting for understanding between Christians and Jews

 “Christians & Jews Faith to Faith,” by Rabbi James Rudin. Jewish Lights. 288 pages. $24.99.

As a staff member of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) for over thirty years, Rabbi James Rudin has been a prominent warrior in the struggle for constructive relations between Christians and Jews. His role as AJC’s director of interreligious affairs allowed him to participate in eleven meetings with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Now settled in Sanibel, Rabbi Rudin remains active as an author and columnist, while serving as AJC’s senior interreligious advisor. His new book is another step in his long career as an advocate and agent for principles and actions that will build understanding, respect, and enthusiastic cooperation. 

The subtitle says it all: “Tragic History, Promising Present, Fragile Future.”  Rabbi Rudin is frank and unapologetic as he probes the history of conflict between Christians and Jews. Indeed, “conflict” is too mild a term for many phases and issues in that history. A primary issue grows out of the early Christians’ decision to adopt one the several names of the Israelite people (the list includes “Jews” and “Hebrews”) for themselves. Calling themselves the “New Israel,” followers of Jesus felt that their new faith community superseded that of the Jewish people and that the coming of Jesus invalided the Israelites’ covenant with God.

This replacement positioning is reinforced by the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” constructions that Rabbi Rudin feels are unsuitable for either tradition, but demeaning to Judaism. Its message is in parallel with that of the dismissive evangelistic notion of Jews being somehow incomplete because of their failure to accept Christ. The labeling of Jews as Christ-killers is an obvious roadblock to any pursuit of constructive relationships between the faiths.

Building interrelationships is not a homogenizing process, but rather one that allows for respectful particularity. Rabbi Rudin is dismayed by feel-good jargon like “Judeo-Christian heritage,” which suggests that we are all the same. He prefers formulations like “Jewish and Christian traditions.” We need to understand and respect differences, not pretend that they don’t exist.

Rabbi James Rudin

In remarkably efficient and clearly crafted chapters, Rabbi Rudin puts in context several other concerns. These include the long institutionalization of Christian anti-Semitism, the need for the Shoah to be seen as a unique historical tragedy and the term Holocaust to escape the fate of becoming a lower-cased generic term, and the need to understand the intrinsic relationship between the Jewish people and the modern state of Israel.

I do not wish to give the impression that this book is a rehashing of grievances. It is much more than that: at once more profound and more practical. . . . To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 9, 2011 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 10 issue of the Naples  Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – James Rudin Review. See also the profile of Rabbi Rudin published in the same issues by clicking here: Florida Weekly – James Rudin Profile.

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