Jewish-Christian Relations

Though Jews and Christians have had a complicated and tense relationship, relations today are better than ever.

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Jews, for their part, have not ignored the changes in Christianity. In 2000, a transdenominational group of Jewish rabbinic and academic leaders issued a statement called Dabru Emet, "Speak the Truth." In it, they acknowledged the efforts of Christians to improve interfaith relations and called on Jews to learn about and likewise affirm the positive changes. The statement listed eight points on which Jews and Christians could base dialogue, including "Jews and Christians worship the same God," and "a new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice." Tellingly, though, it was a statement about the Holocaust that generated the most controversy from the Jewish community: "Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon."


Among the many changes instituted in Catholicism as part of the monumental Second Vatican Council in the 1960s was the declaration Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), which formally rejects the charge of deicide, "decries hatred, persecution, displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time and by any one," and calls for "mutual respect and knowledge" between Catholics and Jews.

It was, however, John Paul II's papacy that redefined the relationship between Catholics and Jews. John Paul II (who was elected pontiff in 1978) became the first pope since ancient times to visit a synagogue; established diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel; visited Israel in 2000; and issued a sweeping apology for past Church "sins." He has spoken often of the kinship he sees between the two religions, saying that without Judaism, Christianity could not have come into being.

Many lingering Catholic-Jewish tensions revolve around the Holocaust. In his apology, many Jews were upset that the pope failed to mention the Holocaust specifically. The pope also has taken steps to make the wartime Pope Pius XII into a saint; many Jewish leaders and scholars believe Pius XII could have--but chose not to--do much more to save Jews and stop the genocide.

Sainthood has also been a point of tension in other cases. In one instance the pope named as saint Edith Stein, a Jewish convert who died in the Holocaust, angering Jews who felt that Stein died because she was a Jew, not a Catholic Tension also centers around the limited access Jewish leaders and scholars have had to Vatican archives which may contain records shedding light on the Church's role in the Holocaust. Jewish leaders and scholars are seeking permission to delve into the vast Vatican archives to shed light on the Church's role in the Holocaust and more generally in Jewish-Catholic relations throughout the centuries. The Vatican has resisted such broad access to its historical records, but negotiations are continuing. 

Mainline Protestants

For much of the 20th century, Jewish-Christian relations in the United States were defined mostly as the growing affinity between Reform Jews and liberal "mainline" Protestants, which includes, among others, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Mainline Protestants and liberal Jews alike adhered to liberal religious, social, and political values and embraced modernist belief in human progress. Closer relations with Jews were part of mainline Protestants' growing acceptance of what would later be known as "multiculturalism" and their redefinition of America as a more than just a Christian nation. The relationship between mainline Protestants and liberal Jews remains strong today, especially when it comes to domestic political lobbying and social action issues.

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Michael Kress

Michael Kress is the executive editor of He was also the the VP of Editorial and Managing Editor at Beliefnet and the founding editor-in-chief of