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Young Jews, Catholics to debate Passion Play

JTA

May 3, 2010 | 1:54 pm

For the first time, young American Jews and German Catholics will formally debate the meaning of Germany’s controversial Passion Play at Oberammergau.

The traditional, notoriously anti-Semitic play about Jesus’ last days has undergone serious revisions since Catholic and Jewish leaders first discussed the matter some 40 years ago. The young people will analyze how the play has changed and assess the current performance.

The Americans’ trip May 6-16 is being co-sponsored by the New York-based American Jewish Committee and Germany Close Up, a Berlin-based program designed to introduce American Jews to modern Germany.

Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC associate director of interreligious and intergroup relations, said in a statement that the planned conference would help ensure “that the significant advances in Christian-Jewish understanding and cooperation are sustained and furthered.”

The Oberammergau Passion Play is repeated every 10 years with a new cast, director and stage designer. It has been a source of friction and unusual cooperation between Jewish and Catholic leaders, particularly since the liberalizing Vatican Council II (1962-65), when the Church officially warned against blaming Jews in eternity for the death of Jesus.

Over the decades, Church representatives have worked closely with American Jewish leaders to reshape the traditional text of the play to reflect modern sensibilities, with AJC’s former head of interreligious affairs, Rabbi James Rudin, at the forefront.

It is no mere intellectual exercise, Marans said in his statement.

“Passion plays, especially Oberammergau, the most influential of its genre in the world, can be troubling vehicles for anti-Judaism and, tragically, have inspired violence against Jews,” he said.

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