Rabbi James RUDIN. Cushing, Spellman, and O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. pp. 147. ISBN 978-0-8028-6567-0. Reviewed by Erik RANSTROM, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

Rabbi James Rudin offers readers a fascinating story of how Richard Cardinal Cushing, Francis Cardinal Spellman, and John Cardinal O’Connor influenced and shaped Catholic-Jewish relations in the 20th century.  Rudin’s narrative scope is broad.  It stretches back to the origins of both the Church and the “New World,” follows their respective histories with the religious “other,” and concludes by telling the tale of how the American and Vatican destinies came together during the Second Vatican Council and beyond.  Rudin hearkens back to another era; he looks kindly upon the moral leadership exerted by post-War Americana in the mid-20th century and the American “experiment” of civil religious tolerance.  In this vein, Rudin develops an interplay between the personal and the contextual as he underscores why the American context and the individual charisms of Cushing, Spellman, and O’Connor were equally crucial in moving the Church from supersessionism to a lived commitment to religious liberty and fraternal affection for the Jewish people.  Rudin holds that personal relationships with Jews in the American context proved more helpful to the eventual ratification of Nostra Aetate than mere theological constructs of Jews “devoid of flesh and blood reality.” (119)  Scholars interested in the category of “interreligious friendships” will find this angle particularly helpful. 

On a more critical note, there are a few areas of the book that call for re-thinking.  Although Rudin notes that Cushing, Spellman, and O’Connor were in many ways “conservative” clerics, he makes the gratuitous assumption that their actions in regard to the Jewish people must be attributed to a kind of proto-Hickian theology of religious pluralism.  Pluralism in this sense, which has been heavily criticized by the Magisterium, certainly was not the intellectual foundation for the timely, prophetic actions of the Cardinals.  Instead, traditional Christian doctrines like creation, election and redemption were interpreted anew to make their theological case.  The privileging of the “American” in “American Catholic” is also a recurring theme throughout the book.  We are given the impression that the American realities of religious liberty and sociological pluralism had more to do with Cushing, Spellman, and O’Connor’s role in the momentous events of Nostra Aetate than distinctively intra-Christian resources.  The truth probably lies in an inclusive “both/and.”  Nonetheless, Rudin’s book will remain a powerful Jewish gesture of thanksgiving for the legacy of three American Catholic prelates, an act that is an event of reconciliation and hope in itself.