Fifty years of Nostra Aetate

From left: Jeremy Spinak, ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim, Archbishop Anthony Fisher and Rabbi Dr Ben Elton. Photo: Giovanni Portelli/Catholic Communications, Archdiocese of Sydney

ABOUT 400 representatives of a range of faith groups came together at the Great Synagogue last week to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the landmark document that transformed Jewish-Catholic relations.

The commemoration – co-hosted by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD), the Australian Catholic University and the Sydney Jewish Museum – heard from the Great Synagogue’s Rabbi Dr Ben Elton and the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, who delivered the keynote addresses, as well as a number of other speakers.

Addressing the audience, Rabbi Elton said the release of Nostra Aetate was the “most positive development in Catholic-Jewish relations since the two faiths went their separate ways”.

“The rejection of the notion that all Jews, then or now, could be held responsible for the death of Jesus, the condemnation of anti-Semitism and the call for mutual understanding and respect, transformed the ability of faithful Catholics and Jews to interact with each other in a positive way, unburdened by historic hatreds and suspicions,” he said.

Noting that a declaration “can only be the start of a process”, Rabbi Elton said, “Ancient attitudes, prejudices and antipathies do not disappear overnight because a committee has reached a form of words.

“However, a central statement of official policy was an essential first step in the process of healing and the creation of a new era of good relations. That is why this 50th anniversary is so worth celebrating.”

JBOD president Jeremy Spinak also spoke at the event, thanking the Catholic community for its support and friendship in Sydney over many years.

“This is our time to continue to foster and grow the relationship between the Jewish and Catholic communities in Australia,” Spinak said.

“It is our time to work together as two strong and vibrant peoples, to stand up for those who have no voice, who are collectively blamed because of their religion or race, for those who suffer disadvantage and discrimination and for those who long for peace.”

He added that we cannot celebrate the strength of the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths brought about by Nostra Aetate “without also acknowledging that it applies beyond our partnership”.

“The words ‘he who does not love cannot know God’ calls on us to extend the hand of friendship to all, and that we must work together to continually heal communal divides and break down society’s prejudice.”