Interview with Rabbi Erwin Schild

This summer, Rabbi Schild was interviewed by Kathy Gillis, editor of the Scarboro Missions Magazine, for a special edition of this publication in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the declaration Nostra Aetate. A member of the Christian Jewish Dialogue of Toronto and one of the organizers of the R2E conference, Rabbi Schild is one of the most significant voices in interreligious engagement in Canada.  

Born in Cologne, Germany, Rabbi Schild was a survivor of Dachau at 18 and eventually interned in Canada. In 1947 he became the Rabbi of Adath Israel Congregation in Toronto where he remains Rabbi Emeritus since his retirement in 1989. He is an author, an interfaith pioneer, a member of the Order of Canada, and was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit. Here at the R2E blog, we have decided to share with you some of his thoughts on the past, present, and future of intercultural dialogue in preparation for the R2E conference.

What motivates you to be a builder of bridges and a person of hope and peace?

Rabbi Schild: There is a certain unity of humankind. We are not to be divided by antagonisms, by hatred, by misunderstanding, by lack of communication. That is why I believe in interfaith relations and have a positive attitude, even if in the past we were not successful, we still have some successes to report and to record, and we want to add to those. And that’s why, in my own personal life, I have included participation in interfaith relations.

What does Nostra Aetate say to you and how have you seen its impact in terms of interfaith relations?

Rabbi Schild: Being a rabbi and being involved in interfaith relations, it is very important to me that Nostra Aetate opens the road for conditions of equality, of recognizing each other’s validity, and so on. Until Nostra Aetate came about, there was always a certain caveat on the part of Christian attempts to establish friendly relationship. They wanted friendly relationships despite the gulf that separates us religiously. And now I think Nostra Aetate shows us the way of being truly partners in God’s enterprise.

What did you mean when you described Nostra Aetate as a revolution?

Rabbi Schild: I meant that, for the first time, the official version of attitude between Christians and Jews does not have conversion as its main objective. So that we can live together and work together and think together without the mental reservations that Christians had and, to a certain extent also, that the Jews had. So it opened the door. In view of our history together, this is a revolution that came very suddenly. And it happened historically so close after the Holocaust; from the lowest moment, coming suddenly to a summit and it was a tremendous experience.

What is the importance of Nostra Aetate for the Jewish community?

Rabbi Schild: The average member of the Jewish community is not too interested in the theological relationship. Christian-Jewish relations are social, ethical, and economic. And we don’t want to be discriminated against on the basis of our religious faith. So naturally anything that helps to relieve this antagonism would be welcomed. What Jews suffered in the past was not only religious anti-Semitism, but also social and economic anti-Semitism.

What could the Catholic Church do to help that along?

Rabbi Schild: Dialogue is important. Christians have to take the initiative as far as dialogue is concerned. In Jewish history, dialogue between Judaism and Christianity was not really a dialogue. It was a one-sided attempt to improve our understanding and to see the light. And that is no longer the case. The 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate could be an ideal time to start a new initiative. Let’s make the declaration real. Let’s make it well known. Maybe together we can achieve a better relationship, a more meaningful relationship.

For the full interview see the September-October edition of the Scarboro Missions Magazine, which will be available at the R2E conference.

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