10/22/2012 01:31 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

50 Years of Jewish-Catholic Dialogue

On Thursday evening, Oct. 18, Israel's immediate past ambassador to the Vatican, His Excellency Mordechay Lewy, lectured on the topic "50 Years of Jewish-Catholic Dialogue."

In his lecture, Ambassador Lewy commented that the Second Vatican Council's document, Nostra Aetate, "brought a historical rapprochement with Judaism which is a revolution." The ambassador pointed out that Nostra Aetate, which recognizes the historic roots of Christianity in Judaism, has no formal doctrinal status in the Church. Nevertheless, he expressed satisfaction that Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized its centrality as a Church teaching repeatedly throughout his career. Lewy warned "we must be alert to be sure that Nostra Aetate remains a central teaching of the Church," which is not a given. He noted that the document also shows favor to Muslims.

The lecture, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, was held at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It was co-hosted by the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at JTS and the John Paul II Center of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome. The lecture was moderated by Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding. Bemporad is a long-time leader in Jewish-Catholic relations.

A gala dinner honoring Ambassador Lewy's service at the Holy See preceded the lecture at JTS. Guests were welcomed by JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen and by Angelica Berrie, a central figure in promoting Jewish-Catholic relations and president of the Russell Berrie Foundation. Ambassador Lewy served as Israel's envoy to the Vatican from 2008 to 2012. He entered the diplomatic service of Israel in 1975 until his retirement this year.

We were thrilled to have Ambassador Lewy at JTS to celebrate the conclusion of his service for the State of Israel at the Vatican. Further, we are deeply pleased to work with the John Paul II Center at the Angelicum in Rome and our good friends at the Russell Berrie Foundation in the promotion of Jewish-Catholic relations. Finally, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, an event that changed the history of the Catholic Church and set its relations with Judaism on a positive course.

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at JTS. He is author, most recently, of 'Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud' (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011).