U.S. Jewish-Catholic dialogue on religious identities

Published January 20, 2012

Much work is needed to give those of other faiths an accurate picture of a religion’s beliefs and practices. Photo: Nir Levy

Jewish and Catholic leaders agree that much work lies ahead in accurately presenting the religious identity and practices of each other’s communities in their respective religious education textbooks.

“Much of today’s religious education in Jewish schools still focuses too closely on the mistreatment of Jews in the past,” said Rabbi Arnold Samler of the Jewish Education Project of New York City. “Even though Jewish religious schools are required by state law to teach about other religions, there are no consistent standards to help guide teachers in this important project,” he added.

Samler spoke in December at the semi-annual consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Synagogues at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary. The consultation was co-chaired by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Rabbi David Straus, Mail Line Reform Temple, Philadelphia. The topic for the meeting was “How Do We Teach about Each Other’s Faith Group in Our Religious Schools?”

Rabbi David Sandmel, PhD, of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago urged that Catholic and Jewish teachers be brought together to develop interfaith projects and shape joint curricula. Father Dennis McManus, Ph.D., of Georgetown University stressed the need for an in-depth formation of Catholic religious education textbook editors, who often control the final expression that will shape the understanding of both students and teachers about Jews and Judaism.

Rabbi Ruth Langer, Ph.D., of Boston College noted that the Solomon Schechter Jewish day schools, the Maimonides School of Boston and some yeshivot (Jewish religious schools) are now teaching about other religions in addition to Christianity.

Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal summarized the concerns of both groups in stating, “We can learn much together by learning much from each other. Today, our religious textbooks need to let the voices of other believers tell us directly who they are and what they believe.”

Jewish and Catholic participants expressed hopes and concerns over developments in the so-called Arab Spring, which has unfolded since summer of 2011. All agreed that under no circumstances-whether directed against Christians, Jews or Muslims-could religion be used as a pretext for violence.


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