New Good Friday prayer & “shelo asani goi”: the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope

On the run up to Pope Benedict’s derestriction of the older form of Mass, some Jewish leaders expressed concern ranging from annoyance to hysteria about the prayer for Jews on Good Friday in the 1962 Missale Romanum.  

Some Jewish leaders understand that if Catholics believe as they believe, not praying for Jews would be a far worse offense to Jews.

One Jew who gets this point is Prof. Jacob Neusner.

You might remember him.  He was a key figure with whom Benedict XVI dialogued in his book Jesus of Nazareth.  So, this is someone with whom Papa Ratzinger has had an intellectual, scholarly relationship.

My emphases and comments.  (I am deeply impressed with the clarity of this beautifully written this piece.)

Professor Neusner wrote in Die Tagespost



Israel prays for the gentiles, so the other monotheists – the Catholic church included – have the right to do the same, and no one should feel offended. Any other policy toward the gentiles would deny gentiles access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah. And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship. God’s kingdom opens its gates to all humanity and when at worship the Israelites ask for the speedy advent of God’s kingdom, they express the same liberality of spirit that characterizes the Pope’s text for the prayer for the Jews – better ‘holy Israel’ — on Good Friday.

Let me explain. I derive evidence of the theology of Judaism toward the gentiles from the standard liturgy of the synagogue, repeated three times a day. I draw the text from The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire (London 1953), which sets forth an English translation of a prayer for the conversion of the gentiles that concludes public worship three times a day every day through the year. The text is uniform in the worship of Judaism. In it Israel the holy people (not to be confused with the State of Israel) thanks God for not making the holy people like the nations. [This is the famous shelo asani goi prayer.  I wrote about this prayer here.  Neusner’s analysis here has shifted my understanding.] In worship holy Israel asks that the world be perfected when all mankind calls upon God’s name and knows that to God every knee must bow.

The text of the prayer “It is our duty to praise the Lord of all things,” thanks God for making Israel different from the nations of the world. Israel has its own ‘portion’ and it is to differ from the nations. God is asked to remove ‘the abominations from the earth’ when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty. This prayer for the conversion of ‘all the wicked of the earth,’ who are ‘all the inhabitants of the world’ is recited in normative Judaism not once a year but every day. It finds its match in the passage in the Eighteen Benedictions that asks God to cut off the dominion of arrogance. We may say that normative Judaism asks God to enlighten the nations and bring them into his kingdom. As if to underscore this aspiration, the prayer ‘It is our duty’ is followed by the Kaddish: ‘May he establish his kingdom during your life and during your days and during the life of all the house of israel, even speedily and at a near time.’ I do not see how in spirit or in intent these prayers differ from the one under discussion. [Exactly.]

These passages from the standard, daily liturgy of normative Judaism leave no doubt that when holy Israel assembles for worship it asks God to illuminate the gentiles’ hearts. The eschatological vision finds nourishment in the Prophets and their vision of a single united humanity, and in a liberal spirit encompasses all humanity. The condemnation of idolatry does not afford much comfort to Christianity or Islam, which are passed by in silence. The prayers beseech God to hasten the coming of his kingdom. The prayers form the counterpart to the one that asks for the salvation of all Israel ‘in the fullness of time, when all mankind enters the Church.’ The proselytizing prayers of Judaism and Christianity share an eschatological focus and mean to keep the door to salvation open for all peoples. No more than Christianity and Islam take umbrage at the Israelite prayer should holy Israel object to the Catholic one.

Both ‘It is our duty’ and ‘Let us also pray for the Jews’ realize the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope. [This is remarkable.]

Jacob Neusner

Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism
Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 12504


WDTPRS applauds Prof. Neusner. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Larry Brooks says:

    Bravo to Prof. Neusner! As you say Father, he gets it! I am not sure I quite agree with Bishop Williamson however. It seem a bit presumptuous to speak of Jews needing Catholic prayers. I know and believe we have the True Faith; but, I also understand from that the Jewish people are our “elder brothers” in this matter of religion and that we are brothers precisely because of our mutual faith in One God. I do not believe tha Catholics will consider it less important to pray for Jews conversion if those same Catholics have read the Church’s recent teaching, echoing the constant teaching, on Jesus Christ as the one and only source of salvation. I am quite certain that when we all get to heaven there will be a few surprises for us all. Let’s not be like the “elder son” who griped about the reason for the banquet; let’s just join in and enjoy the FEAST! More LAMB anyone?

  2. jbrown says:

    So, for some people evidently, the changed prayer now indicates Jews really don’t need Catholic prayer, or the Church’s intervention for them. Ok, so that would make them the sole non-Christian religion not needing such prayers. I wonder why the Church has prayed for their conversion since the VERY FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH!!!

  3. Jack says:

    Now why is this so hard, really? If more people in this world had this kind of common sense, we could have some real interfaith relations. The “We have differences, but let’s not blow each other up over them” kind, not the “I’m ok, you’re ok” kind.

  4. Sid Cundiff says:

    Just outstanding! This should settle the matter.

  5. Sid Cundiff says:

    And this raises the question, Is Judaism itself a universal religion, calling all human beings to righteousness and holiness, with just special requirements for Jews? “A light unto the Gentiles”

  6. Larry Brooks says:

    My point was not that Catholics shouldn’t pray for the conversion of the Jews. Indeed we must.

  7. D.V.M. says:

    Seems as if Kasper and Neusner are in agreement, that the new prayer for the Jews is eschatological in focus.

  8. berenike says:

    Neusner’s book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, is well worth getting hold of. One can ponder and postulate how the Gospel appears/appeared to the Jews – here one tells you. I am still pondering two months on. It’s on Amazon, abebooks, …

  9. TomG says:

    I remember well Prof. Neusner stating years ago that he “agonized” over the anguish that Christians experienced from the Andreas Serrano “p**s Christ” blasphemy. A Jew in the tradition of Gamaliel and Maimonides.

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