I-It? I-Thou?

Author:Fisher, Eugene J.
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

For almost thirty-five years, it has been my privilege to be involved in what Shalom Carmy ("Orthodoxy and Reticence," February) disparagingly calls "official dialogues" between Catholics and Jews. Many of these have included representatives of Orthodox Judaism. Because of Rav Soloveitchik's dictum, we have avoided calling these encounters "dialogues," using instead the term "ongoing consultations." Rabbi Carmy's line of reasoning does not reflect an adequate understanding of the encounters in which I have taken part.

Reducing the ongoing relations between Catholics and Jews to a mere "transaction between organizations" misses the point of the endeavor. Rabbi Carmy quotes my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, of blessed memory. But I am not sure that Rabbi Carmy has grasped the meaning of Rabbi Wurzburger's reference to the Ray's "wry remark," which would seem to affirm rather than to reject (as Carmy would have it) a joint consideration by Jews and Christians of the meaning of Genesis on "man as the image of God."

It is true that official consultations over the past three decades have spent a lot of time discussing our respective communal agendas. I see no inherent problem with that. We are communities of people, and both sides have priorities for which we would like the support of allies. Joint statements have been made by the Holy See and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligous Consultations (which includes Orthodox representation) on the environment, family, religious freedom and holy sites, education, and most recently on "tzedek and tzedakah" (social action and righteousness) in Buenos Aires in 2004. These statements have often involved a mutual exploration of the biblical, rabbinical, and patristic roots of our common religious understandings. In a similar way, the themes of repentance and forgiveness were deeply explored in dialogues in response to the Pope's Liturgy of Repentance during the year 2000. The statements these dialogues produced are not the result of "bargaining" but of the quest for appreciation of each other in our very specific otherness.

What Rabbi Carmy calls "dialogue" 2is what Martin Buber termed an "I-It" relationship, as one has with one's grocer. I argue for a relationship between our two ancient communities akin to that which one has, after thirty years or so, with one's wife or husband. The Catholic Church believes it has a sacred, unbreakable bond with the Jewish People. We call it a sacramental...

To continue reading