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DIALOGUE
from issue no. 02/03 - 2008

If everything is entrusted to God even dialogue is easier


“One possibility of smoothing things out, on which work is being done, is that of affirming that everything remain within the sphere of eschatological hope and that the expression of prayer should be brought back to something nearer the sense it can have in the famous passage in the Epistle to the Romans in which Saint Paul speaks about the salvation of Israel. Where the ‘fullness of the Redemption’ is put back until the end of time, that is it is entrusted to the mysterious plan of the inscrutable designs of God. And indeed of no other.” An interview with Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome


Interview with Riccardo Di Segni by Giovanni Cubeddu


Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome

Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome

When will the dialogue, broken off unilaterally because of the new Good Friday prayer for the Jews, resume?
RICCARDO DI SEGNI: Broken off... We’re having a pause for thinking, that is we’re reflecting together. Which is different.
You will certainly want to clarify the reasons for disagreement.
DI SEGNI: The most alarming feature of the business is not so much the prayer as such, as its being reproposed, given the historical distance covered and still ongoing. The distance covered that is in the relationship of the Christian world with the Jews, marked in past centuries by various forms of hostility, and a basic lack of comprehension. That whereby since its origins Christianity, that was born out of Judaism, has wondered why ever the Jews, out of whose womb Jesus was born, did not accept him as God and Savior. This is the lack of comprehension that has dragged on since then and that has always marked, in some way, our relations. And, not only now and then, in dramatic fashion.
Some distance has been covered, however.
DI SEGNI: In the moment in which Jews and Christians are willing to speak together, the first demand of the Jews is that these problems not be discussed: you cannot, that is, ask us to untie this knot.
Whereas the demand for your conversion also remains.
DI SEGNI: In the moment in which we recognized Jesus Christ we would no longer be Jews. You consider this differently, because, for you, by doing so, we Jews would crown, fulfill, idealize our Jewish trajectory. That is your vision, ours is completely different. On these arguments there’s no room for discussion, because it would inevitably end... in the first place in substantial futility, at least according to us. And barriers would be raised, instead of discussing. We must exchange views, yes, but for a hundred other reasons. The discourse underlying the Good Friday prayer is not just any old theme, but a sort of shadow, of historical anguish that we Jews carry with us.
One certainly can’t deny that the Catholic Church has shown a new sensibility in these recent decades...
DI SEGNI: ... to the point that the symbolic element of hostility on these aspects, precisely the Good Friday prayer, has been progressively changed, dismantled, and today in all churches, in the local languages, it is prayed that the Jews, may on the one hand, keep faith with their own Covenant, on the other may have the “fullness of the Redemption”. That is they may recognize Jesus. In Jewish terms, however, the possibility of a misunderstanding remains with the formula, since also for us, although with a different meaning, the prayer “fullness of Redemption” exists, Geullà Shlemà... The issue has remained equivocal at least. Not satisfactory, but at least diplomatically acceptable.
Is the Latin text proposed to amend the pre-Council Roman Missal unacceptable?
DI SEGNI: What has disturbed us in recent days is that by veering off a road traveled together, that showed an awareness of Jewish sensibility and the necessity to remove obstacles from the agenda of our discussions, we have gone back to questionable topics. And faced with that we are asking ourselves: “But then... what is the point of our exchange of views?” We are not bringing down the shutter on the dialogue, we are saying: “What are we Jews doing in it?” Is it possible that every time a Christian and a Jew meet, with all the things they should do together, this – that is our conversion – comes up as first topic? Is it possible that the only time in the year when the Church prays for the Jews this problem has to arise? What are we Jews doing in this confrontation? I think it is a legitimate question. The present incident, which I hope can soon be resolved, could be beneficial, if it has served to make everyone reflect.
At this point one could start up again.
DI SEGNI: We who have in common the Biblical vision, compared to the rest of the world, that does not, must – I quote the great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik here – be ready to converse on themes such as “peace and war, the moral values of mankind, the threat of secularism” – I wouldn’t say threat, but rather confrontation with the secular view – “human technology and values, civil rights, etc”. We’ve enough to get on with, it seems to me. If we only think of the political debate in Italy, a religious view founded on Biblical values would have a lot to say.
So, the Jewish-Christian debate is easy if it deals on the practical plane, much less so if set on the plane of faith or of eschatological hope.
DI SEGNI: Look, if our talking happened, truly, on the terrain of eschatological hope, that is of the end of time, we could still stay with it. You hope for what you desire and we Jews also. The problem arises when someone wants to bring this end of time down to the here and now, hic et nunc. If only eschatological hope were at stake...
Such shortening of the times goes along with the risk of instrumentalizing the religious fact.
DI SEGNI: That is the risk inherent in the dynamics of our faiths. Which are messianic. Christianity and Judaism are two messianic faiths, and Christianity, by the very name it bears, is more so.
In the present Jewish-Christian dialogue is the perception that each has of the identity of the other the proper one? Or rather is it a distorted image that wins?
DI SEGNI: The distortion is on both sides. In Judaism there is a certain lack of awareness that Christianity has accomplished a passage of renewal. I see in any case on the Christian side great interest in modern Judaism. One example to stand for all: the rite of the Jewish Paschal supper. I have seen circulating in several Roman parishes information on our Pesach, that is taken up and celebrated in your Paschal liturgy. And I have also heard that alarmed warnings on the practice are circulating among Catholics... More generally, many Christian, Catholic and Evangelical groups are characterized by their taking up of fundamentally Jewish themes, but it all takes place by referring the sign back to the Christian image. The result is a strange product, from the liturgical point of view, of the Jewish-Christian debate...
And what do you think of such practices?
DI SEGNI: It’s a question I’m often asked. If we Jews were to arrive at protesting about such “borrowings”, then we would have to begin from the mass, which was and is the Jewish Paschal supper, changed in style and meaning... Rather, in the quest for his own identity it’s practically natural for a Christian to feel the fascination of Judaism. I receive numerous letters from Christians and priests: there are those who declare themselves enraptured by Judaism, and who continue not to understand why Judaism shouldn’t blend with Christianity, inasmuch as they’re the same thing... It’s an altogether particular fascination.
One episode?
DI SEGNI: One day a nun with some of her followers and friends came to me asking if they might attend the ritual in the synagogue. I said yes, of course, so one Saturday morning they presented themselves at the temple. The Saturday morning service begins at 8.30. The synagogue gradually filled, people arrived a few at a time. On that occasion there were many schoolchildren, so everything was very rowdy and cheerful. The service finished at 11 and immediately afterwards the group came to say goodbye and said to me: “It seemed to us this morning that we were on the slopes of Mount Sinai”. All that wouldn’t have been possible once upon a time...

Di Segni takes down an old print he keeps on the wall of his rabbinical study. It is a copy of an edict of 1625 – signed by the Vicar of Rome, Giovanni Garzia Millini, created cardinal in 1606, on the eleventh of September – setting out the punishment, a “fine of twenty scudi”, for the Jew who let Christians enter the synagogue.

DI SEGNI: If Christians wanted to enter the synagogue the blame was handed to the Jews, who were fined twenty scudi. It’s a spectacular document. I’ll make you a photocopy... [he laughs, ed.]. At least as far as curiosity there’s nothing new.
Proclaiming the suspension of the dialogue with the Catholic Church entails courage and a willingness to undergo criticism, is that not so?
DI SEGNI: We haven’t made an extreme gesture. We’ve asked for a pause for reflection. So as to ask ourselves what sense this dialogue has.
As you indicated a short while ago, the prime terrain for the Jewish-Christian coming together is “peace and war”. In terms of that, do you not think that the Jews are judged on the basis of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians rather than on theological issues?
DI SEGNI: We Italian Jews feel ourselves perennially judged for the political choices of Israel. And the rabbinical office of Rome is an exceptional point for observation. Not only do letters of reproach arrive... Some even advise us to think of what we are doing “with the Protocols of the Elders of Sion, because they are true” and of our guilt for the slaughter of the Palestinians. All is tied in together, a single perverse logical line.
In what way would you suggest the misunderstanding with the Holy See, about the pro Iudaeis prayer, can be got over?
DI SEGNI: One possibility of smoothing things out, on which work is being done, is that of affirming that everything remain within the sphere of eschatological hope and that the expression of prayer should be brought back to something nearer the sense it can have in the famous passage in the Epistle to the Romans in which Saint Paul speaks about the salvation of Israel. Where the “fullness of the Redemption” is put back until the end of time, that is it is entrusted to the mysterious plan of the inscrutable designs of God. And indeed of no other. For us the exchange of views does not aim at the conversion of the other.
<I>Moses rescued from the waters</I>

Moses rescued from the waters

Thus we come back to a crucial point...
DI SEGNI: ... that it is a fundamental theme of the Dominus Iesus.
You see, if “mission” is understood as “witness” to the truth to which one adheres in conscience, adherence from which neither of the two parties can, out of honesty and coherence with their own respective faiths, withdraw, the expression that the dialogue is “mission” could also at the limit be swallowed... But one would have to explain the sense well. And the large risk that people would not understand and misinterpret would however remain. If the first mission, in terms of our identities, is a personal testimony that enables us to speak together freely, for what we are, trying in the first place to approach God more closely, that is to convert ourselves first, it could perhaps also be acceptable. But conversion is to be understood in the literal Jewish sense of teshuvà, that means “reply and return”, not “passage elsewhere”. If the sources were read attributing this to conversion-teshuvà it would all be very different.
As you see it, does the Church, at grassroots level, think of it in a different way?
DI SEGNI: Judging from letters sent me on the subject there is the conviction that “we Christians must present Christ to you and make him recognized by you Jews also”. I couldn’t tell you whether another idea of “mission” or “testimony” is comprehensible at grassroots level. As I said, it should be explained very much better.
While taking into consideration such letters, it’s not enough to assert that the Church today is focused on the conversion of the Jews. The difficulties are other...
DI SEGNI: In fact, that too is a discourse I’d like to confront. It was probably not necessary to introduce this modification to the Good Friday prayer since the factual reality makes us see that the Church today, the one that people know, no longer comes knocking on the door... Such a modification would only revive marginal groups.
And whether or not one prays pro Iudaeis, losing sight of Jesus is more a danger for the Church than for Judaism.
DI SEGNI: Yes, and we would like to remain outside the issues proper to the Catholic Church of today.
If, however, the occasion of this discussion of ours serves to make it understood that, while the need is perceived to find one’s roots again and one sees one is living in a moment of confusion, then this crisis is positive.


(Thanks to Gianmario Pagano)


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