Famed French philosopher and humanitarian Bernard-Henri Lévy last week called on the Muslim world to formulate its own version of the famed Nostra Aetate declaration by Pope Paul VI in 1965.
The document, which denounced antisemitism and effectively absolved Jews for the death of Jesus, amounted to a historic reset of Catholic-Jewish relations and also outlined the Church’s modern attitude to other world faiths.
Speaking at an event at the United Nations on Wednesday, co-hosted by the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the Nuncio of the Vatican to the UN, Lévy said, “I would say, with all possible humility and respect, that it would be so great, it would make such a difference, it would be such a revolution, maybe a revolution as big as was the revolution of Nostra Aetate, if there were tomorrow, or in 10 years, but tomorrow would be better, a Nostra Aetate inside the Muslim world.”
Elaborating on the feasibility of his proposal, Lévy continued:
If we had — and I know that they exist; I know that they are a majority; I know that they are the body of Islam — clerics, academics, men and women of goodwill and of faith who stand and who say when they see the jihad: ‘This is not our Islam; our Islam says this and that;’ if there were some clerics who would do what you did, you Catholics, what we Jews have done since ages. This is Talmud. Talmud is a vaccination against dogmatism because Talmud is every day to reread and reinterpret the dogmas…
…but let’s imagine some clerics, some academics, some women and men of goodwill doing this work of rereading, reintegrating, putting in the context of Nostra Aetate, ‘our age,’ the holy work of which, then, in the model of Nostra Aetate will spread in this way, if we could have this last avatar, it would really change the world and it would really solve the ‘uneasiness’ in civilization which we are today dealing with. So please, a Muslim Nostra Aetate!
Lévy also pointed to recent comments made by Pope Francis I as effectively continuing the spirit of the Vatican’s historic declaration.
“Pope Francis, what he said in a recent interview with a Spanish newspaper, that in the heart of every Christian, and especially in every single Catholic, there is a part which is Jew… he is continuing the process of Nostra Aetate,” Lévy said.
The public intellectual also referred to a Vatican publication from a few days prior, which called on Catholics to stop trying to convert Jews, and instead to work with them to combat antisemitism as another continuation of the process of Nostra Aetate.
“When a few days ago, the Vatican’s congregation devoted to this question, produces a new text wherein it is said, if I understood well, that the belief in Christ is the condition for salvation, but that the Jews who do not recognize Christ are part of the salvation, and in the first rank, in the front line for this battle for salvation. and when this text says that to combine the two propositions together is a mystery, and a mystery of faith, we are in the deep, in the beating heart of the spirit of Nostra Aetate. And this is not 10 years ago, this is two days ago,” he said. “So Nostra Aetate is a process still going on, still living today.”
The UN event was held to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate, also known as the Second Vatican Council — or Vatican II — which marked a watershed in the reduction of institutional antisemitism and proved to be the beginning of a journey of cooperation and respect. The event’s host, IJCIC, is the international umbrella of major Jewish organizations engaged in interreligious dialogue, including the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith.