Minutes of Monthly Meeting

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January 12, 1997

Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton

Meeting Topic: Open Discussion about articles published in Catholic Telegraph on July 5 and 19, 1996 concerning the Pharisees

Speakers: Patricia Hemple, Editor, Catholic Telegraph; Lou Vera, Archdiocese of Cincinnati; and Robert Obach; Harold Rubenstein, Moderator

Hosts: Dieter & Suzi Walk

PRESENT: Connie Breen and Lou Ryterband, Cochairs; Jane Brown, Larry Briskin, Lisa Federle, Tom Federle, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Malcolm Gillespie, Johann (Hans) Hafner, John T. Hickey, John Hoffman, Sophie Kahn, Steve Kahn, Jack Kelley, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, John Magee, Bob Mass, Rita Mass, Barry Mersman, Cy Middendorf, Eileen Moorman, Robert Obach, Bill Rain, David Riley, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Dave Schwartz, Robin Smith, Lou Vera, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Marschall Weiss, Frederick Zollman.

Connie called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. Dieter delivered the devotional which consisted partly of a large paragraph from Ethics of the Fathers: every controversy which is for the sake of heaven will endure; the important thing is not what people argue but why they argue; both the School of Hillel and the School of Shamai had the same purpose; both Hassidim and Mignadim (rejectionists) had the same purpose; the Dialogue is similar in that both Christians and Jews have some truth to share. Following the devotional, Eileen announced that Sister Judith Martin will deliver a luncheon-meeting talk to the Dayton Council on World Affairs. At this point, Connie turned the meeting over to Harold Rubenstein, Moderator of the discussion.

Harold expressed his amazement at the number of attendees. The topic of the meeting is the treatment of the Pharisees in articles in the Catholic Telegraph of July 5 and 19, 1996. Don Cohen and other members of the Dayton Jewish community took issue with the negative presentation of the Pharisees in these articles because of their implications for attitudes toward modern Jews, the descendants of the Pharisees. Don is former Director of Jewish Community Relations Council. Harold then introduced the speakers and some distinguished guests. Distinguished guests included Barry Mersman, Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Cincinnati; Dave Riley, Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Cincinnati (Dayton office); and Marschall Weiss, Editor, Dayton Jewish Advocate.

Patricia Hemple's Remarks

Patricia Hemple was the first speaker. Harold stated that she likes to be called Tricia. She has served for 3 ½ years with the Catholic Telegraph. She is from Pittsburgh and has held numerous former journalistic positions.

Tricia thanked the group for inviting her and said she would not have missed this opportunity. She began by briefly discussing the mission of the Catholic Telegraph which is to inform, educate, and foster dialogue. She stated that the negative reaction to the publication of the articles on the Pharisees was a painful experience, but it provided the opportunity for growth. She noted that at a prior Dialogue meeting, Paul Flacks had questioned why the Editor had not read the Pharisees articles prior to their publication. Tricia feels bad that she did not read the articles prior to publication, and, if she done so, they would not have been published. She stated that, although the authors of the articles may not have intended to defame Jews and Judaism, perception is reality. Apologies are not enough. After Lou Vera talked with Tricia about the controversy, she contacted the people from Hartford, Connecticut who provided the pages. The priest who runs the organization which disseminated the pages was also concerned about the controversy. Tricia then contacted Robert Obach who wrote a column in the Catholic Telegraph about the matter a few weeks later. The Catholic Telegraph is no longer using this children's page, but instead is using a page from the Catholic News Service as a replacement. As a result of the controversy, there has been a little more sensitivity on the part of the Catholic Telegraph staff. As a result, a nice series is planned to run in March before Passover which talks to children about Judaism. Lou gave Tricia a booklet from the National Workshop, Symbols and Sensitivity, How We Bug Each Other Without Even Realizing it. Tricia looked up the definition of Pharisee in the Random House Dictionary. The definition included: a member of an ancient Jewish sect plus a sanctimonious and self-righteous person. This shows that the problem is much broader and wider than just the immediate controversy. Tricia stated that Catholics in authoritative positions are trying hard to overcome the problem. Tricia has had a long love and understanding of the Jewish tradition, and noted that the neighborhood she grew up in was a Jewish and Irish immigrant neighborhood. The recent controversy will make Catholic educators work a little harder to make sure they are sensitive.

After Tricia concluded her formal remarks, Harold noted that Don Cohen had told him that nothing but good will was involved from the Catholic Telegraph side, and Tricia's presentation confirmed this.

Lou Vera's Remarks

Harold then introduced Lou Vera. She is the cofounder of Border Crossings, an organization which engages in a variety of cross cultural activities.

Lou thanked the Dialogue for inviting her and stated she was happy when Don Cohen called with his concerns about the Catholic Telegraph articles. Lou has been trying to rehabilitate the Pharisees for years. Lou referred to a packet of materials which she handed out to those in attendance. It included God's Mercy Endures Forever, along with relevant pages about the negative treatment of the Pharisees. Lou pointed out that passages in the New Testament hostile to the Pharisees actually postdate Jesus. Yet anti-Pharisee writings endure to this day. The handout packet included a book list of sources on the Pharisees. Recently, there has been a paradigm shift in the Catholic community toward appreciation of the Jewish People. For example, the packet includes a letter complaining about anti-Pharisee statements in the National Catholic Reporter. The understanding of the ways Christians related to Jews in the time of Jesus and his followers is becoming more sophisticated. Love and connection between Christians and Jews persisted for a long time during the centuries following Jesus. Recently, there has been a growth in the theology of bonding--this involves treatment of Jews by Christians as elder brothers and dialogue between them. Lou then passed around a handout that contained material about religious education. In 1976, references to the Pharisees in Catholic teaching were wholly negative. Since then, the situation has improved, but not enough. At this point, Robert Obach read passages written about the Pharisees. The good news is that writings like this are positive about Rabbinic Judaism. Catholic children are getting a better message about Jews from their religious education. The Oberamergau style stuff is gone. Eliminating anti-Jewish patterns in Catholic education requires multiple modes of attack. A number of priests have changed their homiletic style, but the disparaging treatment of the Pharisees is one area where there has been little success. Unfortunately, priests have not changed their homiletic parables which do contain condemnations of the Pharisees. At this point, Shirley read a story which comes out of Pharisaic discourse. If you do not know some of the writing and how close Jesus was to the Pharisees, you can have difficulty understanding what Jesus said. The originators of the stories are no longer present to elaborate on the common body of knowledge that everyone had. The Rochester Board of Rabbis Agreement with the Rochester diocese suggests joint learning opportunities for Christians and Jews. Unfortunately, we are 10 years away from this point in this diocese. A project to rehabilitate the Pharisees in Christian teaching should be undertaken--this is the Gamliel Project. Jerry noted that Gamliel taught Paul. He also noted some relationship of the early Christians to Rabbi Hillel. Lou maintained that a Christian-Jewish Institute in the area of Dayton and Cincinnati would be desirable. Establishing such an Institute would take money, vision, and leadership, but it could contribute toward alleviating the problems illustrated by this Pharisees controversy.

Robert Obach's Remarks

Harold announced that on August 16, 1996, the Catholic Telegraph carried an article by Robert Obach addressing the controversy over the treatment of the Pharisees in the two July articles which are the subject of this meeting. Robert is a member of the Archdiocesan Commission on Interfaith Relations. He is also an adjunct professor at Mt. St. John, Antioch University, and other educational institutions.

Obach said he was asked to come to the Dialogue meeting, but he did not prepare formally. He has a strange memory from being a kid. He was born in 1939; during his childhood in the 40's, he heard a word that was always whispered--Jewish. When he was asked by his childhood playmates to go in a rowboat, he avoided it because he was ticklish and he associated being ticklish with being Jewish; and he knew that was not good. We absorb our ideas about Jews from the surrounding culture. Robert expressed his amazement that in his lifetime something like this group of committed and loving Christians and Jews (the Dialogue) could be taking place. Robert finished Mineola High School in Long Island, and spent 6 years in a religious community. He attended Loyola University in Chicago. He likes to learn, especially trying to piece things together to understand why things are the way they are. Robert desired to share one other thing. There is in Catholic theology the axiom that the law of praying is the law of believing. When he was growing up he prayed in accordance with the custom on Good Friday for 9 groups, one of these was the misbelieving Jews. Later, Pope John 23 refused to read this prayer, and the 2nd Vatican Council has removed it. The Catholic belief has certainly changed in recent years. Robert Obach started his Catholic education work in the 70's. James Michener's book, The Source, had a great effect on him. He also participated in writing a commentary on Matthew. In this endeavor, he tried to put in a historical explanation that was accurate about the Jews. Robert's final point was that the big problem for Christians is that they read the Gospels as if they were accurate historical reports. Many Christians are not aware that these documents are proclamations of faith, and they are thus tremendously biased. They were written by holy people who were trying to get people to believe in the religion of Jesus. When Christian educators begin to realize this, progress will be made.

Discussion Period

Jerry asked about the telephone conversation with the priest in Hartford who had disseminated the offending articles. He asked why Jewish people did not contact the priest. Tricia said that Don Cohen did contact the priest, but she does not know what the response was. Lou Vera noted that she cannot get the Cincinnati Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) excited about this issue. Harold noted he has been in Dayton for approximately 40 years and that Dayton as a community is more progressive than other places like Cincinnati. Tricia noted that Don Cohen did send material on the offending articles to the Stamford Jewish newspaper. Tricia was very surprised that that newspaper did not publish the material. Jerry offered to send an inquiry to the Hartford JCRC to see why they did not respond. Erica asked about the mission of the Catholic Telegraph. Tricia explained that it did not include missionizing. Erica appreciated the job the Catholic Telegraph is doing, but suggested it may be difficult to educate during the Passover-Easter season because of the conflicting messages of those holidays. She suggested pursuing interactions with Jews in the area who can help correct mistaken notions about the Pharisees.

Shirley was curious about the writer of the children's articles. Why did the writer have such a nasty attitude? Tricia acknowledged the irreverent tone in the article; she said that the writer had replied to this criticism by stating that she was trying to talk in the cool way that children talk. Lou Ryterband praised the presentations. He addressed a question to Robert Obach: how do you get away with calling the Gospel just a story? Robert replied by saying that when he wrote his commentaries, they had to be approved by a Bishop. He noted that the Gospels were originally passed orally. Only later were they written down by authors who had a purpose in mind. Those authors had a perspective. The four Gospels differ in a great many ways. Robert believes that they are inspired stories. The writers were human beings who wrote with all the human limitations, including poor grammar. At the 2nd Vatican Council, the bishops issued a Document on Divine Revelation which included a set of rules on the reading of the scriptures. Official church teaching is that this is the way to interpret the scriptures. It recognizes that the evangelists took the materials they were working with and made them convey a certain message. Steve asked whether, when Robert wrote the Matthew commentaries, he used this approach of recognizing the biased perspective of the writer. Robert replied that although the Catholic Church is late in developing these tools, it has now adopted them. Jerry commented on Erica's suggestions for Jews to come together with Christians to help explain the Jewish context of ancient Christianity. He noted that the seders which he leads at churches are well attended and authentic. At these seders, Jerry explains the Jewish meaning of the Seder; then his Christian partner explains the Christian interpretation. Jack pointed out the traditional problems of the disparaging treatment of Jews in the Oberamergau Passion Play and Matthew 23, and praised the speakers for owning up to these problems. Hans asked at what age group these articles on the Pharisees were directed. When told that the articles were targeted at children, Hans stated that when he tells his young children Bible stories, he does not temper them with Biblical criticism, as has been suggested by some participants in this evening's discussion. Hans said that we should be cautious that we do not overload children too early with subtle distinctions that they cannot understand. Tricia agreed with Hans. She told a story about watching a movie with her husband in which a sexually explicit scene also contained a fish tank. Her child entered the room and, rather than asking about the steamy love scene, merely inquired about the fish tank. Dave Riley agreed with Hans's approach of shielding children from overly adult approaches to religion, but Harold said that he had a problem with this. Harold asked whether kids raised with Biblical literalism may later reject religion when they learn that the stories are not true. They may be likely to overturn the whole religious edifice. Dave Riley replied that in Catholic religious education, stories are not taught as being not true. Rather, it is taught that the stories have different levels of meaning, depending on the maturity of the student. Lorraine agreed with Dave; she cited Mark Twain who said that all stories are true and some of them really happened. However, a lot of anti-Semitism has come from the childrens learning process. When using these stories, we must be careful not to let childrens stories convey a message of hate.

Lou added a footnote about the book, Education for Shalom, by Cunningham. She noted that a lot of these anti-Semitic stories originated in the Patristic Era. The church fathers systematized the themes of anti-Semitism. Christians must learn to recognize the anti-Semitism in the tradition in order to remove it. Lou agreed with Lorraine about the importance of childrens education. She would like the senior Dialogers in the group to go all over the Diocese to help educate Christians.

Harold concluded the formal program at 9:37 PM. Connie thanked Harold for being a great moderator. Jack Kelley asked us to remember those with whom we do not have dialogue--Muslims who are currently celebrating Ramadan. He also complimented Ken for getting the announcements of Dialogue meetings into the Campus Report, University of Dayton faculty and staff newspaper. Jack begged for financial support for his attendance at a Holocaust Scholars meeting in Florida. John Hoffman has done some research on the Pharisees and Jesus's statements about the Jews; he passed out a handout which included his findings.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:45 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary
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