Which is honest in general
The merits of the Judaist and historian Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich (1921–2007), whose 100th birthday we will celebrate on March 27, lie not so much in the results of his scientific research, but more in his practical efforts to promote and promote interreligious dialogue to establish something like a culture of understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews in German-speaking countries after the Shoah.
During his lifetime, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich could be found wherever there was a need to deepen and promote Christian-Jewish dialogue. I remember numerous meetings in the 1970s with the Dominican Father Willehad Paul Eckert (1926–2005), in which Ehrlich and I took part and which discussed the Christian-Jewish conversation and its progress and regression.
Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich was to be found wherever there was a need to deepen and promote the Christian-Jewish conversation.
At these meetings and the conversations that were held at them, Ehrlich emphasized that the most important thing was to combine the acceptance of the other with the determination of the existing differences.
At a conference of the Episcopal Academy in Aachen in November 1974, at which the question was how the Jews feel about Jesus, Ehrlich stated, for example: “Whether Christians want it or not, Christianity will necessarily always refer to Judaism… Different it is now with the Jews. Nothing compels them to take note of Jesus and the Gospels ... The Jew can lead a fully valid religious life without ever having heard of Jesus and the Gospel. "
REPLY For Christians anchored in the faith, formulations of this kind often have a precisely heretical character. Some are irritated, others fall into religious doubts, and finally, third parties take strict defensive positions. Someone was honest who helped, who did not polarize and insisted on the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity, but someone who offered answers.
One of his sentences, which he proclaimed on appropriate occasions and which is still in my ear, was that Jews and Christians should not proclaim the biblical inheritance separately, but rather together.
What Ehrlich understood by biblical inheritance is the ethics associated with that inheritance, by which he meant that Jews and Christians should feel jointly committed to this ethic.
The ethics of Jesus, Ehrlich argued, were based on the Hebrew Bible and found in the New Testament. It is the task of Jews and Christians to recognize this and, together and separately, to carry this ethic into the world. For this reason alone, it is necessary that Jews and Christians work together and enter into a dialogue with one another against the background of their religious sources.
During the Second Vatican Council Ehrlich was, of which he was proud all his life, the Jewish interlocutor of Cardinal Augustin Bea (1881–1968). Ehrlich was celebrated for having played a decisive role in the preparation of the declaration "Nostra Aetate" (1965).
FUTURE The declaration, which put the relationship between Catholics and Jews on a new basis, was adopted at the time with 2221 votes in favor to 88 against. The future will tell whether this declaration will open a new chapter in the relationship between Catholics and Jews.
“Every Council declaration,” Ehrlich put on record at the 81st German Catholic Convention in 1966, “remains a dead letter if people do not appropriate it, do not put it into practice. ... Christians and Jews, each in their own way, become aware of what that actually means: to love the other even though he is different, an instruction that Jews and Christians received from their common Lord. "
Ehrlich was involved in the preparation of the Vatican declaration "Nostra Aetate" in 1965.
I have often asked myself whether Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich actually believed that the "Declaration" would lead to a turning point in the relationship between Catholic Christians and Jews. I had my doubts, even then, and still have them today. As is well known, »derailments« occur time and again, which put a strain on the Jewish-Catholic dialogue, for example when the »Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism« described the Shoah as »a typical work of a neo-pagan regime«.
DEBATE We also remember that there were violent irritations and protests in the Jewish world when Pope Benedict XVI. on February 5, 2009 met the Catholic traditionalists and allowed them to return to the Latin version of the Good Friday prayer "Oremus et pro Judaeis". In general, this was seen as a throwback to the decisions made by the Second Vatican Council. Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, who was no longer alive in 2009, would certainly have commented on the events in striking words during the debate.
In an essay published a year before his death under the title "Anti-Semitism, Criticism of Israel and Life in the Diaspora," Ehrlich admitted that the documents of the Vatican and the Bishops' Conferences were not widely acknowledged and implemented in the religious life of the congregations become". The liturgy has been gradually cleared of anti-Semitic statements in recent years, but this has only contributed to a limited extent to the disappearance of anti-Semitic prejudice and anti-Semitic prejudice.
According to Ehrlich, the fact that Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism still exists in Europe today is hardly understandable to common sense after the Shoah. But regardless of this, one must assume that the aversion to the Jews still exists and the hatred poisons the minds, perhaps less in Germany, but even more so in other European countries today. This is a "sad statement", but no reason to fall into fatalism.
Ehrlich has repeatedly said that one must do everything possible to combat the various forms of anti-Semitic prejudice. He knew that this is not always easy. But that didn't stop him from speaking up when it came down to it. But he warned against pushing the Jewish side too much into the foreground. Because, he said, fighting anti-Semitism is not the job of the Jews, but of the non-Jews. Politicians, police and judicial authorities would have to intervene. He considered everything else to be counterproductive.
ISRAEL Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, a thoroughly political head, also commented on the question of whether criticism of the politics of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism or not. He was of the opinion that such criticism was legitimate and permissible - as was criticism of the politics of any other state. But, he said, it was by no means allowed, and here Ehrlich expressed himself very decidedly, to apply "different moral-political standards to Israel than to the rest of the world."
Why do you criticize Israel, but not Russia, not China, Turkey, Sudan and other countries for their policies? This is striking and allows the conclusion that the criticism of the policy of the State of Israel has completely different motives.
If criticism of the politics of the State of Israel is generalized and leads to a blanket devaluation of all Jews - then, according to Ehrlich, this is nothing other than anti-Semitism. However, it is not open anti-Semitism as we know it so far, but anti-Semitism in disguise.
Ehrlich assessed the hostility towards Jews in parts of the Arab world in a similar manner. Here, too, he said, it is a question of anti-Semitism that is not directed directly against the Jews, but rather that "the Jews" are perceived as a symbol into which everything that is despicable in the western world is projected appears.
POLITICS Over the years, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich and I have repeatedly exchanged views on various occasions as to whether and what we on the Jewish side could contribute to the fight against anti-Semitism. We agreed that there are limits to the fight against anti-Semitism. Jews should refrain from engaging in these activities. First and foremost, it is politicians who are required. It must create the conditions for combating anti-Semitism at universities and educational institutions.
However, we were skeptical about the suggestions of those who believe that it is enough to educate and impart knowledge. Although this is praiseworthy, we countered that it would not remove the basis of anti-Semitism.
Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich was certainly not a scholar of standing who left his mark on the "science of Judaism". To stylize it as such would, I believe, give the wrong picture. One could rather say of him that he was a sage, a "Talmid Chacham".
He understood it, and this is where his real achievement lies in bringing people together, inspiring them and convincing them of an idea. He felt obliged to the rabbinical concept of "Tikkun Olam", "the healing of the world". He kept coming back to this concept.
effect The effect that Ehrlich once had can still be felt today. He's no longer alive, but what he had to say continues to generate interest. It is to be hoped that future generations should be able to make use of his ideas in the future as well.
Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich's legacy lives on in the meritorious way of the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk (ELES) founded by Rabbi Walter Homolka. Lutz, as his friends called him, would probably have been delighted that talented Jewish (and also non-Jewish) students received scholarships bearing his name.
The author is a historian and CEO of the Moses Mendelssohn Foundation.
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