Hebrew Catholics (in modern Israeli Hebrew: Ivrím Katolím) are a movement of Jews converted to the faith of the Catholic Church and Catholics of non-Jewish origin who choose to keep Mosaic traditions in light of Catholic doctrine. The phrase was coined by Elias Friedman (1987) who was himself a converted Jew.
Hebrew Catholics subscribe to the doctrines of the Catholic faith and are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Their point of differentiation lies not in dogmatic beliefs but in liturgical practices. For example, their liturgical calendar might differ from the liturgical calendar used by Latin Catholics in their retention of certain Jewish holidays. Hebrew Catholics may celebrate Passover, Rosh Hashana, Shavuot, etc. and even wear traditional ritual wear like kippot, tallitot, tefillin, use mezuzot and keep many mitsvot (commandments) in the Torah as a sign of their heritage. Where these Jewish holidays and practices do not conflict with Catholic doctrine, they are kept for ethnic reasons, much as Irish Americans might celebrate Saint Patrick's Day as a major feast day regardless of the diocese they reside in. Saint Paul the Apostle is mentioned in passing in The Acts of the Apostles to have observed the Jewish religious holidays (Acts 18:21; Acts 20:6; Acts 20:16; and in 1 Corinthians 16:8).
Hebrew Catholics are constituted of people with both Jewish and non-Jewish origins. Some are Jewish converts to Catholicism who live in Israel and use Hebrew as their first language; the vast majority of Hebrew Catholics are the children of foreign workers who were already Catholics, but they were born and grew up in Israel, and they also use Hebrew as their first language. The main associations of the movement are the Association of Hebrew Catholics (AHC), Remnant Of Israel (ROI), and Miriam Bat Tzion. The AHC and the ROI are English-speaking organizations, and Miriam Bat Tzion is a French-speaking one. There is also a group of Spanish-speaking Hebrew Catholics in Maracay, Hebreos Católicos de Tradición Hebrea Mashíaj.
According to David Moss, the current president of the AHC, it was estimated to have around 10,000 members in 2000. The countries with the largest membership are the USA and Israel, but members are also found in Canada, France, Italy, Australia, Spain, England, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico and Germany.
Hebrew Catholics should not be confused with Messianic Jews, who are members of independent Jewish Christian denominations, many of which are Sabbatarian Protestant, and like some Hebrew Catholics, some of their members also celebrate Jewish holy days and emphasize Jewish elements within Christianity. Hebrew Catholics are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome and are not an independent movement, and they may be either liberal or traditionalist. While some form of corporate ecclesial and ritual identity had been raised by some Hebrew Catholics prior to 2009, Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus prompted suggestions that personal ordinariates could also be appropriate for other groups, such as Hebrew Catholics, who desire to preserve their identity within the Catholic Church.
According to Bloomer in 2008, "There is a broad range of Jewish Catholics. From those who observe nothing much of the Jewish ways up to those who observe the same as Orthodox Jews. There are many different opinions but they all try to accept each other, whatever their level of observance."
Furthermore, David Neuhaus, patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem and himself a Jew by birth, declared in 2008 that "Dietary laws are not obligatory for those who live in Christ. I would only understand dietary laws being observed by Jewish Hebrew Catholics if they had always practised these laws before becoming Catholic. It certainly does no harm. But adopting the laws as Catholics (or as secular Jews who have become Catholic) does not make much sense as we have the fullness of the promise in Jesus."
Since most Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories are of Arab ethnicity, Christian clergy are mostly involved in community work with Israeli Arabs or with residents of the Palestinian territories, but rarely with Israeli Jews except Russian immigrants who have Jewish ancestry but consider themselves Christians. Israeli Arabs who belong to the Christian religion are recognized as such under Israeli law, but Jews who have converted are in most cases still registered as Jewish, because the State is very reluctant to recognize such conversions, even though there is no law against them. Some changes in attitude have taken place, as Israeli society is becoming more accustomed to the presence of a variety of religious denominations.
Another sensitivity is regarding Christians of Jewish origin who still regard themselves as Jewish - Messianic Jews - considered by both Jews and Christians to be a marginal movement.
A significant aspect in Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Catholic relations in Israel is government policy. Ever since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, Judaism has been used in government policy and legislation as a means to give Israeli society a sense of identity. As a result, all matrimonial laws in Israel are religious, because no civil marriages can take place. Education is also segregated to a large degree between various religious denominations.
Animosity towards Catholics of Jewish origin in was displayed in 1995, when Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger visited Israel and the Chief Rabbi Meir Lau publicly accused him of betraying the Jewish people.
Vatican attitudes towards Israeli Catholics of Jewish origin have also shifted. From 1955, unofficial communities began performing the Mass in Hebrew with official Vatican endorsement. However, the Vatican has kept a low-key attitude towards this congregation, in order not to antagonize the Arabic-speaking Catholic community, which may not favor Catholics with pro-Jewish sentiments.
The number of Israeli Catholics of non-Arab origin increased during the 1990s, due primarily to immigration from the former Soviet Union. As a result, the Vatican changed its policies in 2003, for the first time ordaining Jean-Baptiste Gourion as Auxiliary Bishop to overlook the Hebrew Catholic community in Israel. The appointment of David Neuhaus as vicar upon Gourion's death in 2003; however, is not in conformity with the importance that the Holy See ostensibly attributes to the newly emerging community. On the other hand, Neuhaus did participate in the Synod for Middle Eastern clergy as a special invitee of the Pope, and Hebrew - for the first time ever - was one of the official languages in which Radio Vatican covered the event.
In 1997, the Association of Catholics with the Hebrew Charism and Hebrew Tradition Mashiaj was born, derived from the apostolate of Rabbis Paul Drach and Israel Zolli, whose founder and chief president is the diocesan priest Aharon Cohen Tapiero. Currently this association is in Hispanic America. And they consider as Mother Community the apostolate of the Work of Santiago in the State of Israel.