The branches of the olive tree

In the Talmud is a saying that is radically true and wise: “We are all compelled to choose the path we wish to follow”. Our paths are personal, free and responsible choices, true. Driven by criteria that intelligence discovers as true and worthy of being followed, the choices cascade from a heart that chooses what is right and fair. At least, that is how it should be. Unfortunately, in a totally wicked way, we sometimes choose what intelligence identifies as evil and our conscience rejects.

Now, human rationality clearly shows us that the paths to be followed by cultivated and morally sensitive people can be none other than those of peace and cooperation, without blurring what is specific to each. In this regard, note the Declaration of Human Rights, a veritable “universal grammar of cohabitation” for our times.

While this applies to all intelligent and sensitive people, it applies all the more so to those of us who are, moreover, equipped with guiding faith and world vision. Furthermore, a religious clarity that has much in common, for we Christians are proud of having a common religious heritage with the Jews, whom we call “our older brothers”. And by the way, also with Islam, for Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all Abrahamic religions.

As regards Christianity, we take a remarkable metaphor by Paul of Tarsus, a devout Jew trained in the school of Gamaliel: we, non-Jews, were the “wild olive branch” that now bears fruit because it was grafted onto the Jewish root, “the cultivated olive tree”. For that reason, the II Vatican Council says the following about the Jews:  “The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people […] and is nourished by the root of the cultivated olive tree onto which were grafted the branches of the wild olive tree, the gentiles” (NE 4).

There is therefore almost a genetic relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Noah, Abraham, Moses belong both to the “heritage” of the Christians and the Jews. But they belonged first to the Jews. They were, in fact, the “cultivated olive tree”, which feeds many mouths.

Curiously, history has not always recognised this. There have been misunderstandings. Violence on both sides. Expulsions. Persecutions. Shoah. Sadly. Lamentably.

This will not happen again, however. Either because civil society has become “humanised” or because we, the religious leaders of the two communities, undertake to do everything to raise the standard of our relations, enhancing mutual knowledge and entering into a climate of trust that will bring closeness and reciprocal collaboration. It is happening, now. With a tone that is more than mere formality, itis indeed extremely cordial.

The “Protocol of Friendship and Collaboration”, signed three years ago by the leaders of the Diocese and the Jewish Community of Oporto, testifies to just that: a break with the past of misunderstandings and the certainly of a future constructed together. So, the President of the Jewish Community, Dr. Dias Ben Zion, is right when he says that in the last five hundred years this is the most meaningful historic deed in Oporto in relations between Christians and Jews.

I agree! I will do everything in my power to ensure that this protocol becomes the expression of our good relations and an example to the world.