CCCB Plenary Assembly: Remarks by Rabbi Howard Joseph of Montreal

Thursday, October 12 2000

Mr. President, my friends,

I am here to share with you the fruits of a process that began almost one hundred years ago. Christian scholars began to research the neglected study of Christian origins. Naturally, it led them to inquire into Jewish history and thought.

The process picked up after the Holocaust when many Christians were horrified by what some Christians had done to the Jews and to the world. Although the Holocaust was not a Church sponsored event Christians were plagued with guilt. They also wondered how this was possible even among secular Europeans after almost 2000 years of Christian teaching in Europe. Another influence is the general challenge to all faiths of a secular world. Together, Biblical faiths might be more successful in proclaiming the virtue of faith.

Over the last thirty years I have sat with Catholics, and many other Christian denominations such as Anglicans and United Church members to work on this process. It has been exciting and thrilling. I can only admire the courage and persistence of these people in trying to correct a wrong and do what is right in the eyes of God.

I have been impressed by the genuine effort to comprehend Jewish experience. This certainly has been achieved in regards to the Shoah whose evil imprint still affects Jewish and world history today. The sensitivity to Anti-Semitism and racism has spread beyond the borders of our community into yours. The Christians I know understand the delicate, fragile sense of security that Jews retain even fifty-five years after the Shoah.

However, I must share with you my hope for the future. For I believe that Christians have not fully come to grips with another major phenomenon of Jewish history. Contemporary Jewish history is not just the story of Shoah and destruction. It is also a story of redemption through the miraculous rebirth of the State of Israel. I am speaking about the spiritual impact of this event upon Jews and upon you as well. Without the rebirth of the State of Israel in its ancient homeland Jewish life would not have recovered after the Shoah. The despair and depression of our people, – its fear and trembling – led many Jews to give up on our history and try to hide their Jewish identity and origins.

Therefore, the rise of the State of Israel is another factor that has shaped our coming together. Jews did not disappear but rose up to demonstrate our commitment to continued Jewish existence. We could not be ignored or consigned to the dustbin of history. In other words, I personally doubt that there would have been any attempt to adjust Christian teachings if Jews had remained a small, scattered and desperate people since the Shoah. On the contrary, it would have been very comfortable to retain the old teachings on Jews and Judaism.

If you are to understand contemporary Judaisms then you must come to grips with this sequence of Shoah and Geulah, Holocaust and Redemption. You must get beyond the currently and often nasty political realities of Middle East politics which have rarely known any peace for the past few thousand years. I hope you will be able to understand the deep spiritual connection to Israel that sustains Jewish life everywhere today. It is our contemporary version of Isaiah’s pronouncement, “Out of Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

You have come to appreciate one source of our spiritual life, the multi-faceted connections to Torah traditions. You have even celebrated these traditions on the eve of our Yom Kippur and this morning through borrowing some of our prayers. As you know there is much division among Jews today about how to relate to Torah traditions and that has given birth to the various religious movements within our community. However, on the public and national level, the drama of Shoah and Geulah, is the universal underlying feature of Jewish spiritual life today. This fact explains our great concern for any crisis facing our brothers and sisters in the Holy land; why we visit there so often; and why we send so many of our youth to study and engage the culture being developed. On political issues there are a wide variety of opinions on how to proceed despite the fact that because of recent events that variety has narrowed. Spiritually, however, there is no dispute. The profound spiritual inspiration of the existence and well being of the State of Israel is a major factor in the life of Jews today, and, ultimately, is the reason why we have progressed in reversing century old hostility to become brothers and sisters once again. I pray with that this will continue into the future.