Lecture Focuses on "The Jewishness of Jesus"

by Alessandra Luedeking


On Sunday, February 16, the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning hosted its third annual John Paul II Lecture in Jewish-Christian relations. The lecture was given by the renowned Rev. Dr. Christian M. Rutishauser S.J. of Switzerland. He is the current provincial of the multilingual community of the Jesuit Society in Switzerland. Fr. Rutishauer completed his doctorate at the University of Lucerne and has since published numerous articles and lectures on Jewish-Christian themes in Rome and Munich.

The lecture was structured into four sections: Rediscovering the Origins of Christianity, the Fruits of Nostra Aetate, the restoration of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and the Day of Judaism.


The first section focused on the historical and theological beginnings of the Christian faith and its relationship to Judaism. During Jesus’s time on earth, Judaism was a multifaceted phenomenon with a “disproportionately great impact on the dominant Pagan hedonistic society.” Jewish life was centered on the Temple, the scene of liturgical rites, the place where Jewish laws were interpreted, and most importantly, the embodiment of belief in God. When the Romans destroyed the temple, Jewish culture had to be redefined and reorganized, prompting the emergence of two religious movements: the messianic and the rabbinic movements. Both movements shared the core elements of faith, but interpreted them differently. The messianic movement developed into Christianity, while the rabbinic movement comprises the modern Jewish religion.


The second section focused on the Vatican II document entitled, Nostra Aetate, which addresses the church’s relationship to non-Christian religions. In the text, Judaism is not regarded in the external manner that other religions are treated. When reflecting on the nature of Christianity, one inevitably encounters Judaism.


“The church is tied to the synagogue. Whenever this relationship is denied or repressed, the core of the Christian message is reduced and misinterpreted. If Christianity forgets its relationship with Judaism, it begins to exhibit anti-Judaic behavior, since it cannot then refrain from putting itself in the place of the Jews in its reading of Sacred Scripture. This would make the Church the sole recipient of the Hebrew Bible and would deny the Jewish right to exist,” said Fr. Rutishauer.


The focal point of the lecture was addressed in the third section regarding the desire for the reinstatement of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. This feast day was celebrated on January 1st before its abolition in 1960. Circumcision marks the Jewish male’s entry into the Covenant with God. Jesus partook of this tradition, bearing significant theological implications.


The first of these is the correlation between baptism and circumcision.


“Circumcision, as a mark of the covenant for the Jews, correlates with the act of immersion in Baptism,” Fr. Rutishauser said. “Like circumcision, Baptism creates religious identity and confers membership of the people of God.” He further argues that Baptism and circumcision have the shared purpose of “dying to sin.”


A second implication relates circumcision to the beauty of procreation and sexuality. “Sexuality must be acknowledged as an integral aspect of the state of being created,” said Fr. Rutishauser.


Finally, the blood shed during circumcision is associated with the blood of Christ shed on the cross. “The sacrifice of the foreskin, a sign made on the male member, stands for the sacrifice that underpins all cultural development. It corresponds to the sacrifice of the cross that confronts the destructive forces of death,” explained Fr. Rutishauser.


Fr. Rutishauser ended his lecture by advocating the celebration of the Day of Judaism in the United States, which most European countries celebrate on the 17 of January. The day emphasizes the Church’s Jewish heritage and promotes dialogue between the two faiths.


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