Conference in Chicago, 14 - 16 November 2010

From November 14 to 16, 2010, Catholic Theological Union in Chicago welcomed over forty Catholic, Protestant and Jewish participants to an in-depth discussion of the points of the 2009 ICCJ Berlin document as well as how the Jewish and Christian communities might continue to build a constructive relationship based on these points.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program of the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Center, the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and the International Council of Christians and Jews. The conference was designed to be highly interactive with group exchange being of the highest priority. Hence numbers were kept relatively small so that this goal could be realized. The conference began with a description of the process that created the Berlin document and its major emphases. This session was led by ICCJ Vice President Philip Cunningham of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and Dr. Deborah Weissman, ICCJ's current President.

On Monday and Tuesday the participants focused their attention on the particular points of the document. Discussion in each session was launched by two short reflections, one by a Christian and one by a Jew, which attempted to spark points for consideration, introduced critical comments on the points, and suggested possible future implications and necessary clarifications. Presents included Dr. Karla Suomala of Luther College in Iowa, Rabbi Dr. David Sandmel, Crown-Ryan Professor of Jewish Studies at the Catholic Theological Union, Rev. Dr. Robert Reynolds of the Chicago Presbytery, Dr. Michael Kotzin, Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Dr. Jean-Pierre Ruiz of St. John's University in New York, a leading Latino theologian and a member of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, Rabbi A. James Rudin, consultant on interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee and a longtime international figure in the dialogue, Dr. Katharina von Kellenbach of St. Mary's College of Maryland and Rabbi Richard Marker, currently Chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation (IJCIC), the principal Jewish body for dialogue with the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. A final session on "Where Do We Go From Here" heard penetrating proposals from Dr. Peter Pettit of Muhlenberg College and Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, Chair of the National Council of Synagogue which conducts ongoing dialogue with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States.

The conference ended with an optional public lecture attended by theological faculty and students as well as members of the local Christian and Jewish communities by Dr. Deborah Weissman. In her challenging lecture Dr. Weissman proposed a Jewish theological approach to other religious traditions that was based on key texts in the religious literature of Judaism. She strongly argued that it is definitely possible to make a case for Jewish respect for other religious communities and an openness for sustained dialogue with their members that is rooted in the traditional texts of Judaism.

The conference was certainly successful in extending knowledge and understanding of the points of the Berlin ICCJ document within key elements of the Jewish and Christian communities both locally in the Chicago metropolitan community where dialogue has been an important part of the religious scene for many years thanks to the leadership of people such as the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and nationally as many of the participants play an important role at the national level in the United States.