An Interview with James Bernauer, S.J., author of “Jesuit Kaddish”

James Bernauer, S.J., Kraft Family Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College

James Bernauer, S.J., is the author, editor, and co-editor of a number of books, including “The Tragic Couple”: Encounters Between Jews and Jesuits. He agreed to talk to us about his recently published book, Jesuit Kaddish: Jesuits, Jews, and Holocaust Remembrance.

Lauren Faulkner Rossi, of Simon Fraser University, said that Jesuit Kaddish, “is a thorough, honest, and thought-provoking endeavor to come to terms with the Jesuit Order’s centuries-long hostility towards Jews.” She continues to say that James Bernauer, “simultaneously takes his readers on a highly personal journey that explores culpability, responsibility, and atonement in connection to the Holocaust and its aftermath. What compelled you to reflect on the anti-Jewish past of your own institution?

This is a profoundly personal study, emerging from my early life in a New York City neighborhood that sheltered the largest number of German Jews in the post-World II world and that has come to be labeled in sociological studies as “Frankfurt on Hudson.” As a young man, I wondered about this unusual people with their refined ways and their bearing a heavy sense of exile and tragedy. Later, after I entered the Jesuits, I began studies that culminated in investigations about the Holocaust, which I pursued in the libraries and archives of Rome, Berlin, Paris and Jerusalem. Jesuit Kaddish is the product of many years of study as well as of interviews with observers of the events of the Holocaust. The book’s title recognizes the kinship of two spiritualities: that of Jewish prayer and that of Jesuit discipleship.

What would you like readers to know about your research? And what are you working on now?

Jesuit Kaddish: Jesuits, Jews and Holocaust Remembrance uncovers the centuries long Jesuit complicity with the hostile teaching about Jews that resulted in Holocaust persecution and extermination. During that period, however, there were groups of Jesuits, especially in France and Germany, who ignited spiritual insurrections that led to Vatican Council II (1962-1965) and its revolution in Catholic teaching about Jews. At the heart of this transformation was the leadership of the German Jesuit Cardinal Augustin Bea, the architect of the Council’s declaration, “Nostra Aetate,” which established a new relationship between Jews and Catholics. The last chapter of my book examines the theological exercises that have renewed Jesuit and Catholic spirituality and that have put it on the path of developing a spirituality of friendship with the Jewish tradition and people: these are encounters with the Jewish Jesus; encounters with the Jewish Mary as an overcoming of the dualism of flesh and spirit; finally, renewed regard for human dignity and human rights. The volume concludes with a proposed statement of repentance from the Jesuits for its tradition of anti-Jewish hostility as well as an appendix presenting those fifteen Jesuits who have been honored as “Righteous of the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Center. These are the Jesuits who risked or lost their lives in trying to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.  They are the spiritual pioneers of the new friendship between Catholics and Jews, and my current research seeks to understand the sources of their ability to invent new relationships between Jews and Christians.


This blog post is part of the Enriching Scholarly Communication and Connections through Notre Dame Press project and has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

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