Jewish Identity is a prophetic reading of the signs of the times, the fruit of a lifetime of prayer and study by Father Elias Friedman, O.C.D. The author, a Jewish convert, analyzes with scholarship and spiritual insight the great drama entailing the apostasy of the
Gentiles and the return of the Jews to Palestine. Political and Spiritual Zionism, the role of Israel in salvation history, and the self-understanding of the Jews are all treated in this book.
The new international organization founded by Father Elias, the Association of Hebrew Catholics, is an early manifestation of the spiritual insights contained in this work. In a paral-lel development, the Church, beginning with Vatican Council II, has been updating its teaching regarding Jews and Judaism. The relevant material, included in the book’s ap-pendix, bears witness to the thought of Father Elias.
Ed. The following review appeared in Fidelity, Vol 7, No 3, February 1988.
Sometimes a point of the Church’s doctrine, something kept in the mind of the Church, slips into obscurity in the sense that, in general, Catholics do not advert to it, or are ignorant of it, or even have fallen into erroneous opinions. Israel is a case in point. What is the people of Israel in the mind of the Church? This question, to all appearances, is seldom thought about by Catholics, and even more seldom thought about correctly. There is, of course, the grave matter of anti-Semitism which, incredibly and unfortunately, has even now not been extinguished among all Catholics, even after the Shoah (extermination) of most of European Jewry by Nazi Germany; even after the Second Vatican Council. More prevalent is the notion, often unartic-ulated, that there is no place for Israel in the Christian dispensation. An Israelite converts and in effect becomes ‘gentilized,’ and that’s that. The ‘purpose’ of Israel is to cease to be Israel by becoming Christian. God has revoked Israel’s standing as a chosen people, an elect nation.
Father Elias Friedman, a convert South African physician and Carmelite priest who lived on Mount Carmel until his death in 1999, disputes this anti-Semitism and this revocationism. And he is in very good company indeed. In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “Is it possible that God has rejected His people? Of course not … as the chosen people, they are still loved by God, loved for the sake of their ancestors.” In Nostra Aetate, the Council Fathers teach, “Even so, the apostle Paul maintains that the Jews remain very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts He bestowed or the choice He made.” That is the mind of the Church.
But Father Friedman’s book deals with more than this single theme, important as that theme is. Rather, he deals with several: What is a Jew? What is Israel? What is the meaning of post-Christic Jewish history and survival? What evaluation should be made of Rabbinic Judaism, of Zionism? What do the signs of the times reveal? How should the Church respond to these signs?
As to these last two questions, Father Friedman’s answers will certainly provoke, indeed have already provoked controversy. Basing himself not upon alleged private revelations nor upon feverishly imaginative speculations, but upon an interpretation of Romans 9-11 and Luke 21:24 (‘and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’) and upon the Old Testament pattern of sin, exile, and return, Father Friedman argues that the age of the Gentiles is over and that the preparation for the conversion of the Jews (prophesied by St. Paul) is occurring. The Church, he argues, should prepare itself for this by eventually establishing some sort of juridical structure, some sort of Israelite community within the Catholic Church, so that the Israelite Catholic’s special identity and function is acknowledged and the current ‘regime of assimilation’ is ended. For if the conversion of Israel is to be a witness and sign to the apostate or lukewarm Gentiles, then it must be Israelites who convert, Israel which is ingrafted, not a non-community of assimilated Jews.
There is not an ounce of elitism in Father Friedman’s book, not a shred of chauvinism, but simply a theological realism concerning the identity, mission, and destiny of Israel in the providence of Almighty God.
This is a very important book. Israel’s destiny has never been a merely parochial affair. A Catholic who thinks that the issues Father Friedman raises are narrow or esoteric is, I think, under a misapprehension. Any Hebrew Catholic, any cleric, and anyone interested at all in Jewish-Catholic dialogue should read this burningly prophetic book, as should Catholics concerned with the destiny of Israel.
Excerpts from Jewish Identity
“Jewish Identity is a resultant of the interplay of two factors, Election and Law … The term “Israelite” designates any member of the people of Israel, object of the Divine Election. The term “Jew” designates the Israelite placed in relation to the Law of Moses …” pg. 48
“The Election of Abraham extends to Israelites in all generations … From the Election flows a special providence which will govern the history of Israel until the end of time … The final aim of the Election is the vocation of Israel to bear collective witness to the Messiah.” pg. 83
“‘Blindness has come upon part of Israel’ (Rom 11:25). Jewry is a section of Israel; the corresponding section became the Church. For the Christian world, Jewry is that section of Israel which did not believe.” pg. 88
“The incredulity of the Jews brought riches to the Gentiles (cf. Rm 11:12). These latter were progressively incorporated into the kingdom of God, baptized and elevated by the Spirit and given the mission of the Jews to bear collective witness to Jesus Christ.” pg. 110
“The main effect of anti-Semitism has been to drive a wedge between the Jews and Jesus, whose cause the anti-Semites have so badly served. The presence of the Jew became a measure of the Gentile’s capacity for charity. In his own way, the Jew revealed the secrets of the Gentile’s heart and brought judgement upon him.” pg. 126
“Monsignor Eugene Kevane in his fine work, The Lord of History, after expounding the teaching of John Henry Newman, describes Modernity ‘as a great revolt against God and very possibly as the Great Apostasy.’” pg. 144
“In his classic of Modern Zionism, Rome and Jerusalem, published as far back as 1862, [Moses] Hess situated the future return of the Jews to the Holy Land in an eschatological framework which vividly recalls Redemptor Hominis.” pg. 155
“Never has the Christian mission to the Jews succeeded in overcoming what was a divine decree.” pg 167
“It is an honor to respond to Father Elias’ invitation to do this Preface … for a book which witnesses in so timely a way to the God of the irrevocable election who is the Lord of History.”
Rev. Msgr. Eugene Kevane
Notre Dame Pontifical Catechetical Institute, Virginia
“I firmly support Father Elias’ most precious literary work and his Apostolate of the Hebrew-Catholic Community …”
Fr. Cyril Axelrod, C.Ss.R.
Hebrew Catholic Chaplain to the Deaf in South Africa
“… the book will be cordially welcomed by all who yearn and pray for the return of the People of Israel to take their place — the place that is rightfully theirs — in the Church of Christ..
Father Elias’ vision is an inspiring one, but far from being merely visionary, on the contrary, it is realistic and practicable. It seems to present what is possibly the only humanly feasible means by which the twenty-century sojourn of Israel in the desert can be brought to an end; a means —under God—by which the entire Jewish people, as a people, can come at last to their destined home in the Church Christian and Catholic.”
Archbishop John C. Garner,
Formerly Archbishop of Pretoria, South Africa
“I found your book of utmost importance, credibility, with plain, clear biblical teaching.” “… one of the most important books for this generation.”
President, Patmos International, Helsinki, Finland
“I agree with your position on the Church’s attitude toward Judaism and Jewish Identity.”
Fr. Armand M. Nigro, S.J.,
Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy,
Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington
“I must congratulate you on Jewish Identity.”
C. L. Williams, OSB Oblate,
Belmont Abbey, Hereford, U.K.
“… your thesis is stirring.”
Sr. Kathleen Keely,
Ecce Homo Convent, Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
“… extremely interesting”
Sergio Katurnarich, S.J.
Collegio, St. Bellarmino, Rome
“a very inspiring and fascinating book.” “the extract from Jewish Identity published in Russian was highly praised.” “marvelous and extremely profound.”
George Ben, Editor,
La Pensee Russe, Tel-Aviv, Israel
Russian-language review for Russian Jewish immigrants,
“Fr. Elias discerned that the Great Apostasy, to which St. Paul refers in Thessalonians and Romans, is at work in the Christian world now. Beginning with Luther, it is a long-term apostasy that has worked its way into the Church, into society and the very House of God. Even among his consecrated ones, many no longer walk with Christ.
“Fr. Elias sees the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland as a major step in their eventual conversion to the Church. His book is a preparation for the possibility. The Association of Hebrew Catholics will be instrumental in preserving their identity as an Elect People. Vatican Council II recognized that their Election is irrevocable and so it should be preserved after they enter the Church.”
Cloistered Carmelite Nun
“… my response to reading Jewish Identity is one of profound gratitude to Fr. Friedman — his book has been a revelation to me.”
Mayor of Strathfield, Australia
“To the many who have already done so, I wish to add my voice with those who heartily agree with Fr. Elias Friedman, ODC’s book Jewish Identity …”
Fr. Michael J. Barrette, Rector
“As a Community we support Father Elias in his work …”
Dorothy Mary of the Angels, D.C., Prioress
“I write as one who has had the honour to know Fr. Elias for nearly forty years, and to be convinced of the intellectual power and special genius which he has brought to the life and work of the Church.”
Prof. J. E. Stewart, M.A., Ph.D.
“As a Catholic of Gentile origins, I would like to tell you how much I profited from Fr. Friedman’s book, Jewish Identity, and agree with its thesis … I will go further to state that Father’s book changed my attitude towards Jews as a group …” T. H.