Salvation is from the Jews

  • Norman C. Tobias


The quietly stubborn German Jesuit, Augustin Bea, would see to the completion of Isaac’s sacred mission. Bea’s most important Jewish interface would be Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. Heschel was principal theological adviser to the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Bea and Heschel had first met in Rome on 26 November 1961. Heschel had been accompanied by Polish-born Zachariah Shuster, the Paris-based director since 1948 of the AJC European office, and Professor Max Horkheimer, AJC German consultant and codirector with Theodore Adorno of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. Bea was accompanied by his personal secretary, German-speaking Croatian Fr. Stepfan Schmidt, SPCU secretary Johannes Willebrands and Fr. Felix Morlion. “Both Heschel and Bea had prepared carefully for this formal encounter,” writes Edward Kaplan. “Heschel had studied Bea’s introduction to a critical edition in Hebrew of the Song of Songs. Bea, who admired Heschel’s Berlin dissertation on the prophets, reviewed references to Heschel’s writings in Catholic academic sources.” Heschel gave Bea two volumes of Midrash Rabba, with book markers indicating commentaries on the Song of Songs, expressing admiration “for the cardinal’s scholarly edition of the Song of Songs, ‘even including subtle points of punctuation.’” Two AJC memoranda with recommendations for changes to Catholic liturgy and catechesis were raised by Heschel. On 22 May 1962, after much internal vetting, Heschel sent Bea a third AJC memorandum titled, “On Improving Catholic-Jewish Relations.” According to this memorandum, the foremost cause of antisemitism was adjudged to be “the slanderous claims that ‘the Jews’ are collectively responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus, that because of this the Jews were accursed and condemned to suffer dispersion and deprivation throughout the ages. This charge has been used by anti-Semites for centuries, to justify the most cruel and inhuman treatment of Jews; it has even been advanced to justify the fate of six million Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.” Said the Jews, the murder of six million of their brethren had not been carried out by God, but in defiance of God. On 31 March 1962, at the AJC headquarters on East 56th Street in New York City, Bea met privately with prominent, qualified representatives of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism at a meeting chaired by Heschel. At Heschel’s specific request, no Jewish converts to Catholicism were in attendance, a demand that ruled out Baum and Oesterreicher. Speaking unofficially and in English, Bea adumbrated in round terms the problem: the Jews are accused of being guilty of deicide and on them is supposed to be a curse. Both charges were rebuttable on scriptural grounds, he continued, based on scriptural truth, the same scriptural truth that Isaac had dredged up.

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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman C. Tobias
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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