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Vatican Says Jews' Wait for Messiah Is Validated by the Old Testament

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  • Anne Guida
    New York Times January 18, 2002 Vatican Says Jews Wait for Messiah Is Validated by the Old Testament By MELINDA HENNEBERGER VATICAN CITY, Jan. 17 - The
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2002

      New York Times              January 18, 2002

      Vatican Says Jews' Wait for Messiah Is Validated by the Old Testament


      VATICAN CITY, Jan. 17 - The Vatican has issued what some
      Jewish scholars are calling an important document that
      explicitly says, "The Jewish wait for the Messiah is not in

      The scholarly work, effectively a rejection of and apology
      for the way some Christians have viewed the Old Testament,
      was signed by the pope's theologian, Cardinal Joseph

      The document says Jews and Christians in fact share the
      wait for the Messiah, though Jews are waiting for the first
      coming, and Christians for the second.

      "The difference consists in the fact that for us, he who
      will come will have the same traits of that Jesus who has
      already come," wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect of the
      Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

      At least one Jewish scholar said the new document is a
      marked departure from "Dominus Iesus," a study of the
      redemptive role of Jesus that was released last year in
      Cardinal Ratzinger's name and that fanned disputes between
      Catholic and Jewish scholars.

      The new document also says Catholics must regard the Old
      Testament as "retaining all of its value, not just as
      literature, but its moral value," said Joaqu�n
      Navarro-Valls, the pope's spokesman. "You cannot say, `Now
      that Jesus has come, it becomes a second-rate document.' "

      "The expectancy of the Messiah was in the Old Testament,"
      he went on, "and if the Old Testament keeps its value, then
      it keeps that as a value, too. It says you cannot just say
      all the Jews are wrong and we are right."

      Asked whether that could be taken to mean that the Messiah
      may or may not have come, Dr. Navarro- Valls said no. "It
      means it would be wrong for a Catholic to wait for the
      Messiah, but not for a Jew," he said.

      The document, the result of years of work by the Pontifical
      Biblical Commission, goes on to apologize for the fact that
      certain New Testament passages that criticize the
      Pharisees, for example, had been used to justify

      Everything in the report is now considered part of official
      church doctrine, Dr. Navarro-Valls said.

      The Rev. Albert Vanhoye, a Jesuit scholar who worked on the
      commission, said the project sees Scripture as a link
      between Christians and Jews, and the New Testament as a
      continuation of the Old, though divergent in obvious ways.

      A number of Jewish scholars and leaders said they were
      pleased but stunned and would have to take some time to
      digest fully the complicated, 210-page study, published in
      French and Italian.

      "This is something altogether new, especially compared with
      the earlier document from Ratzinger that was so
      controversial," said Rabbi Alberto Piattelli, a professor
      and leader of the Jewish community in Rome.

      "This latest declaration is a step forward" in closing the
      wounds opened by that earlier document, Rabbi Piattelli
      said. "It recognizes the value of the Jewish position
      regarding the wait for the Messiah, changes the whole
      exegesis of biblical studies and restores our biblical
      passages to their original meaning. I was surprised."

      Prof. Michael R. Marrus, dean of graduate studies at the
      University of Toronto
      , who specializes in the history of
      the Holocaust, was also complimentary. Professor Marrus was
      among the Jewish members of a panel studying the Vatican's
      role in the Holocaust, but the group was disbanded after
      disputes between Catholic and Jewish scholars.

      "This is important," he said, "and all the more so because
      it comes from Cardinal Ratzinger, who is not considered the
      most liberal spokesman for the church. It represents real
      and remarkable progress on the Catholic-Jewish front," even
      as the dispute over the Catholic Church's wartime history
      seems to be hardening, he added.

      At least initially, the only voices of dissent were on the
      Catholic side, where some traditionalists said they felt
      the church under Pope John Paul II had done altogether too
      much apologizing already.

      Vittorio Messori, a Catholic writer and commentator, said
      he respects the pope but "his apologies leave me

      "He's inspired and has his reasons," Mr. Messori said, "but
      what's dangerous in these apologies is that he seems to say
      the church itself has been wrong in its teaching," rather
      than just some within the church.

      The oddest thing about the document from the Jewish
      perspective is that it was so quietly released. It has been
      in bookstores here since November, but as a small book
      titled "The Jewish People and the Holy Scriptures in the
      Christian Bible," it drew no notice until the Italian news
      agency ANSA printed a small report on it Wednesday.

      Tullia Zevi, a longtime Jewish community leader and
      commentator here, said: "The widespread opinion on the
      document is that it's trying to question the validity of
      past attitudes of the church, and seems an attempt to move
      us closer to together. So why was such an important
      document kept secret?"

      One possibility, she said, was that the church was trying
      to avoid criticism within its own ranks.

      Vatican officials, however, say it was not announced
      because it was seen mainly as a theological study intended
      for other theologians.

      The Vatican is governed by tradition and habit, and is thus
      quite able to keep silent about even important new
      policies. In December, for example, word emerged without
      fanfare of new rules on the treatment of priests accused of

      Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Sant'Egidio Community,
      a left- leaning Catholic group with a history of mediating
      international conflicts and promoting religious dialogue,
      said he was most impressed by the depth of the new

      "This should be reassuring" to Jews, he said, "especially
      because these last years have not been easy."

      He said the document in no way backtracks from "Dominus
      Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus"), but does represent a significant

      "In the past, we've talked about an ancient, common
      heritage," he said. "But now, for the first time, we're
      talking about our future waiting for the Messiah and the
      end of time."

      Waiting together?

      "No," Mr. Riccardi said. "But waiting close to each

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