WASHINGTON (November 28, 2000) -- The Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
(BCEIA) and the National Council of Synagogues issued a joint statement condemning acts of religious hatred, and a joint reflection on children and the environment.
"As religious leaders of the Catholic and Jewish communities in the United States, we are alarmed by a wave of attacks on synagogues and Jews that have occurred in North America and Europe in the past several weeks," the statement said. "Scores of acts of vandalism and numerous personal assaults have been reported," the religious leaders noted.
"We condemn any acts of desecration of holy places or deeds of verbal or physical violence that threaten any person's ability to practice their religion freely. Such actions we repudiate as sinful and offensive to God according to both the Christian and Jewish traditions."
The joint reflection said: "As Catholic and Jewish religious leaders, we wish to express our concern over environmental health hazards adversely affecting the health of children. Children are especially vulnerable to their environment and deserve special concern from their society."
The statement and the reflection were issued after a meeting of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA) and the National Council of Synagogues, in Baltimore, November 20.
Catholic participants included (Chair) Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore and Episcopal Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Basil Losten, Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Stamford, Bishop John J. Nevins, Diocese of Venice, Florida, Auxiliary Bishop John Nienstedt, Archdiocese of Detroit, Msgr. Denis Madden, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Rev. James Loughran, SA, Archdiocese of New York, Rev. Drew Christiansen, SJ, Ms. Nancy Wisdo, and Mr. Gerard Powes, United States Catholic Conference, and Dr. Eugene Fisher, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Jewish participants included (Co-Chairs) Rabbi Michael A. Signer, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Rabbi Joel Zaiman, Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Central Conference of Reformed Rabbis, Rabbi Joel Meyers, Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Ronald Kronish, Interreligious Coordinating Committee in Israel, Jerusalem, Dr. Victor Goldbloom, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center (UAHC), Rabbi David Davidson, UAHC/Joint Commission, Rabbi Sari Laufer, UAHC/Joint Commission, Ms. Judith Hertz, UAHC/Joint Commission, Ms. Sarrae Crane, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Jonathan Waxman, Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi A. Nathan Abamovitz, Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, Mr. Mark Pelavin, Religious Action Center (UAHC).
The full texts of the statement and the reflection follow:
Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
National Council of Synagogues
November 20, 2000
JOINT STATEMENT CONDEMNING ACTS OF RELIGIOUS HATRED
As religious leaders of the Catholic and Jewish communities in the United States, we are alarmed by a wave of attacks on synagogues and Jews that have occurred in North America and Europe in the past several weeks. Scores of acts of vandalism and numerous personal assaults have been reported.
We condemn any acts of desecration of holy places or deeds of verbal or physical violence that threaten any person's ability to practice their religion freely. Such actions we repudiate as sinful and offensive to God according to both the Christian and Jewish traditions.
The words declared by Pope John Paul II during a Christian-Jewish-Muslin interreligious dialogue in Jerusalem on March 23, 2000 speak to people of all faith:
"Religion is not, and must not become, an excuse for violence, particularly when religious identity coincides with cultural and ethnic identity. Religion and peace go together! Religious belief and practice cannot be separated from the defense of the image of God in every human being."
Regardless of any connections of this upsurge in religious hatred to the present conflict in the Middle East, the end of which we pray for fervently, there is no justification whatsoever for the violation of any people's religious liberties. Nor can anyone excuse despicable acts by appeals to religion. It is the particular responsibility of all religious leaders, wherever they may be, to uphold the biblical truth that every human being is created in the Image of God and so possesses an inviolable right to religious freedom.
The Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs reminds all Catholics that "the church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition in life or religion" (Nostra Aetate, 5). Since Jews were the targets of the recent spate of hateful deeds, we reiterate to all the faithful that antisemitism is a sin against God and humanity (Pope John Paul II, Nov. 16, 1990) and that the Church "deplores the hatred, persecutions and displays of antisemitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone" (Nostra Aetate, 4).
The Jewish community has learned from bitter historical experience the cost to civility and religious values when the religious institutions of any community can be targeted without voices of conscience decrying and condemning such actions. "Do not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor." (Lev. 19). The value of "mpnei darchei shalom, (for "the sake of the ways of peace") teaches us to accord to all the benefits, rights, and protections accorded to any. For those reasons, the Jewish community has long spoken out against the desecration of any house of worship and against efforts to divide any community by pitting religious groups against one another.
As Catholics and Jews we have a solemn duty to oppose religious hatred, to assist the proper authorities if incidents of religious intolerance occur, and to stand in solidarity with any victims of such bigotry.
CHILDREN AND THE ENVIRONMENT
A Joint Reflection by the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations
November 20, 2000
As Catholic and Jewish religious leaders, we wish to express our concern over environmental health hazards adversely affecting the health of children. Children are especially vulnerable to their environment and deserve special concern from their society. They are, we believe, "a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Psalm 127:3). The rabbis of the Talmud centuries ago interpreted the biblical words, "blessed is the one who does righteousness at all times" (Psalm 106:3), as referring to one who gives proper attention to the welfare of their children when they are young (Ketuboth 50a), making the raising and protection of children of paramount importance for the religious community.
Jews and Christians infused with the spirit of the Psalms view nature as a living testimony to a living God, as the Talmud states: "One who goes out in the spring and views the trees in bloom must recite 'blessed is God who left nothing lacking in God's world, and created beautiful trees for
humanity to glory in" (Berakhot 43a) See Jonathan Helfand, 'Consider the Work of God: Jewish Sources for Conservation Ethics, in Daniel Polish and Eugene Fisher, editors, Liturgical Foundations of Social Policy in the Catholic and Jewish Traditions (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983)
With the praise of God comes moral responsibility, as an ancient rabbinic tale teaches: "When the Holy One, Blessed be He, created Adam, He took him to survey all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: 'See how beautiful and superior are my works and all that I created for you. Take heed not to corrupt and destroy my world, for if you corrupt it, there is none who can repair it after you'" (Koheleth Rabbah).
Decisions about how we use the environment, and about the environmental health risks to which we expose our children, have a distinct moral dimension for the Church as well. Pope John Paul II has strongly stated that the "state has the responsibility of ensuring that its citizens are not exposed to dangerous pollutants or toxic wastes. The right to a safe environment (italics in original) is ever more insistently presented today as a right."John Paul II, "The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility," World Day of Peace Message, January 1, 1990, no. 9.
While our country has made significant progress in reducing air pollution and providing clear water over the last several decades, further efforts are needed to ensure safe. This is particularly true in the areas of lead and pesticide poisoning which can lead to damage to the nervous system and to immunity, and for air pollution which can lead to asthma and other breathing problems. While all children are at some risk from exposure, we express a special concern for children from low income families, who share a disproportionate risk and burden from environmental hazards.
We recognize that children are not "little adults". Children have different patterns of exposure to environmental contaminants and alsorespond differently to them than adults. Additionally, children's normal behavior puts them at increased risk for exposure to toxic substances that may cause debilitating or life threatening health problems. Children, for example, tend to be outdoors more than adults and consequently have greater exposure to pesticides or air pollutants. Infants and toddlers have more exposure to substances in floors, carpeting, and soil.
The ability of children's bodies to cope with harmful substances is also significantly less than that of adults. Young children breathe more rapidly and inhale more air in proportion to their body weight than do adults. They have higher metabolic rates, drink more fluid, and consume more calories for their body weight. If the air children breathe or the food they consume contains toxic substances, they will receive a larger dose than would adults. Further, because their metabolic systems are not yet mature, they have less ability to detoxify and excrete harmful substances than do adults.
As leaders in the Jewish and Catholic communities, we strongly support efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us, who certainly include the children of our nation. Because of our common concern for and desire to protect our children, we encourage our Jewish and Catholic people at the local and national level to work together to help make our environment safe for children. We urge that this interfaith endeavor will lend special assistance to poorer communities who may not have the resources to address these concerns adequately. We pray together that God Who created this bountiful and beautiful world and Who gives and sustains our lives will enable us and others of good will to provide a safe physical environment for all children.
Joint Social Action Recommendations:
- Create a coalition of key individuals and groups in your community to assist in assessing its 'environmental health.' Potential members include pediatricians, nurses, health department officials, child advocacy groups, PTAs, and environmental, youth, civil, business, academic and religious groups.
- Educate community and school leaders about children's special vulnerability to toxins, and families about using fewer toxins in their homes, yards and neighborhoods.
- Support 'right to know' laws to enable families, schools and communities to learn about their children's exposure to toxic chemicals and products.
- Work with existing community groups who are environmentally concerned. Map your community's known or potential hazards (e.g. dump sites, incinerators, superfund sites, major industry). Check the Toxic Release Inventory (TRA) data available to the public. Work with local industry and government to reduce emissions, clean up sites, etc.
- Religious educators can communicate the ethical and moral dimensions of this issue from the perspective of Catholic and Jewish social teaching.
- Advocate the development of a national warning system for environmental health risks. While the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has monitored lead levels in human blood over the years, to good effect, it does not monitor for other dangerous pollutants.
Federal Agency Websites:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention __ www.cdc.gov/nceh/ncehhome.htm
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry __ www.atsdr.cdc.gov/childEnvironmental Protection Agency, Children's Health Protection __ www.epa.gov/children/index.html
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences __ www.niehs.nih.gov
Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning __ www.aeclp.org
American Academy of Pediatrics __ www.aap.org
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine __www.acoem.org
Children's Environmental Health Network __ www.cehn.org
Physicians for Social Responsibility __ www.psr.org
U.S. Catholic Conference Office of Domestic Social Development-www.nccbuscc.org/sdwp/ejp
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism * www.rac.org
National Religious Partnership for the Environment * www.nrpe.org
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life * www.coejl.org