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The gaze of Jewish women

We are at a turning point in the relations between Christians and Jews, marked by the recent document of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, ‘The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable’, (Rom 11:29), A Reflection on the Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate (No. 4). 

Antonietta Raphaël Mafai‚My mother blesses the candles,1932

This is a theological document which I believe is second in importance only to the Declaration Nostra aetate. “In seeking a right attitude towards God”, Pope Francis said, “Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah”. These words have yet to be assimilated by the Jewish world and likewise by that of the Christians, even though several important positions taken have immediately pointed out its newness. At this moment, which we hope represents a turning-point for all, it has seemed to us important to reflect on the Jewish texts, and in particular on the way in which they are read and interpreted in a perspective which we are interested in illuminating, namely that of women. We offer a cross-section of reflections and textual analyses in the feminine which indicate to us the ability of women to interpret, to read in a new light and to question texts which take into account the needs of women, to whom the Torah was also given on Mount Sinai; in short, to grasp the female interpretation of the texts too, those texts which, as Pope Francis says, represent the way in which Jews approach the divine. The other slant we wanted to give our reflection looks back at the dialogue and role which so many women – both Jewish and Christian – had at the outset in order to develop and deepen our knowledge of that exchange which began in years long past, even before the Second Vatican Council had recognized its first suggestions. We have done so by recounting the life of an extraordinary figure, Lea Sestieri, a Jewish woman academic. The history of Jewish-Christian dialogue – from its main proponents to the less-well known figures – is strewn with the names of women. Here too women have contributed commitment and passion, an ability to face changes undaunted and to open themselves to the world without remaining stuck in conformism. It is a history which has not only a past behind it but also a future to invent. (anna foa)

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