Forums Family, Culture, Society Regime of Assimilation and Guilt: A Hebrew Catholic Reflection

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    • Brother Gilbert Joseph
        Post count: 87

        Since researching the West branch of my mother’s family tree who had remained in the Netherlands as orthodox Jews and their almost total destruction in the death camps of Poland I have gained a greater appreciation for the horror of many Jews when family members become baptised. For them being baptised is an abandonment of the Jewish people by the genocide of assimilation. Thus I have developed a kind of survivor’s guilt. That my mother’s branch went to England and mostly assimilated with very few maintaining any Jewish connection after a few generations is true. No doubt if the Nazi’s had conquered Britain and her Empire then my assimilated branch would have also been exterminated as were the many assimilated of Jewish ancestry and Jewish Christians in the Nazi ruled lands.

        This assimilation process has always been over the last 1500 years the greatest reason that Jews have resisted attempts at evangelisation which led to their people being converted into Gentiles and lost to the Jewish Community. Father Elias Friedman the founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics called this the regime of assimilation. This I think is one of the greatest crosses that Jews in the Church bear in regards to their double identity. This has intensified in the light of the Shoah and the genocide of whole extended families. Thus Father Elias saw the necessity of a Jewish community that would be judicially approved and Jewish identity officially recorded and passed on in the Church.

        Even with the advent of Vatican II and a much more positive climate towards Jews many Hebrew Catholics or Catholic Jews have still to struggle against the desire of many to assimilate them and get them to abandon their Jewish inheritance with its customs and practices. Jewish experience has demonstrated that it is Torah and mitzvot that have preserved Jewish identity over the last 2000 years. To abandon Jewish Torah observances and mitzvot always leads to assimilation within a few generations. However 40 years ago Father Elias was reluctant to propose this and leaves this to further discussion and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is a challenge for both Jews and Gentiles in the Church in a time where assimilation doesn’t just mean into a Church based society but into secular society and its values which are becoming increasingly hostile to religious values and morals whether Jewish or Christian.

        Many Catholics are sad that their children and grandchildren are being assimilated into this post-Christian modern secular culture. Could this also be due to Catholic devotional practices being abandoned in the home and in the Catholic schools as well as in many parishes and dioceses? Thus devotional practices and observances may be the necessary ingredient that preserves both Jewish and Catholic identity. Thus donning Tefillin or praying the Rosary are more than just devotional practices but a way to connect with God and to aid in the preservation of religious identity.

        The best way to alleviate this guilt may be for Hebrew Catholics to work towards a non-assimilation model and a permanent established community for Jews in the Church as Father Elias proposed. Will this new appreciation for Jews in the Church who live a Jewish way of spirituality fulfill Romans 11 and bring riches to the Gentiles by a revival of Catholic devotional life and practices that will then bless the whole world?

        When I became a Catholic and joined the Association of Hebrew Catholics over 30 years ago I was one of the few voices advocating openly for the acceptance of Torah observant Hebrew Catholics. However since then I have seen a shift in thinking and many more people supporting and open to this among Hebrew Catholics. What I found lacking in Father Elias’ “Jewish Identity” I had found previously in Father Lev Gillet’s “Communion in the Messiah”. I had read it first and it in a sense allowed me to see that becoming a Catholic would not mean an abandonment of all that was best in Judaism and the hope of working towards an “Hasidic Jewish branch of the Catholic Church”. I think that Messianic Rabbi Mark Kinzer’s book on Nostra Aetate is another of these privotal books on the path to the Ingrafting.

        For now we bear the inner conflict of seeming to our fellow Jews to have abandoned them while knowing that this is not really the case if we can build this Jewish space in the Church where we can live out fully our Jewish and Catholic election or vocation as an Israelite collective. The AHC began this journey 40 years ago to create an opening for that Jewish space in the Church and while there is still a long way to go much has been achieved in that time to prepare for the coming generation or generations that will lead us into the Jewish space and place in the Body of the Messiah Yeshua.

        Father Elias saw the rise of Messianic Jews as one of the signs of the times and I think the ideas of Mark Kinzer are a fruit of this sign and will play a part in this mystery of Israel. The life and example of Cardinal Lustiger of Paris was also privotal as was the interview Cardinal (then Archbishop) Burke gave to David Moss the President of the AHC in regards to Jewish observances. The recent Helsinki consultations on Jews in the Church is also an important step as is the informal dialogue between the Catholic Church and Messianic Jews that was established with the approval of Pope John Paul II in 2000. Of course the dialogue between Jews and Catholics and the magisterial documents beginning with Nostra Aetate have also been crucial and greater knowledge and acceptance of them is needed to flow into the consciousness of the wider membership of the Church.

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