Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Pope, Christians, and Jews

“The Jewish people, who were chosen as the elected people, communicate to the whole human family knowledge of and fidelity to the one, unique and true God,”

“God protects his people: ‘As the mountains are round about Yerushalayim, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and for evermore.’” (Psalms – 125)

As reported in the Jerusalem Post (and republished in this comment was made and Tehilim recited by Pope Benedict to Haifa Chief Rabbi, Rav She’ar-Yashuv Cohen and others who were part of a delegation that met with him recently in Rome. This is quite a statement.

One of most troubling developments between Jewish-Catholic relations happened several months ago when Pope Benedict tried to bring into the fold a group of bishops that had rejected some of the new reforms instituted by Vatican II reforms in the sixties. That resulted in a break from the Church by some fundementalist priests who wanted to retain the church's original doctrines and modalities.

Most Jews could not care less about such an event. What business is it of ours - after all - whether some renegade bishops are brought back into mainstream Catholicism or not?

Except that in one case a Catholic bishop was a Holocaust denier.

The Jewish community reacted swiftly. The Chief rabbinate in Israel sent the Vatican a letter initiating a break in relations with them. Many Jews across the board felt the pope was willing to overlook a holocaust denier for the sake of unity.

But that belied what Pope Benedict had always professed about his belief in the holocaust. As it turns out now, the Pope was never willing to over-look that. He actually admitted that he had not known the views of that Bishop. Had he known them he would not have invited back into the fold without a repudiation of those views.

He actually has since gone further than that. He has declared that any invitation to for a priest to return to the fold must include recognition of those portions of Vatican II that deals with Judaism. If they do not accept it, they are not invited back in.

I think this Pope is a man to watch.

First he has admitted being fallible and making mistakes here and in other instances - something some of our own rabbinic leadership could take a lessen from. Second -I believe that he is going further in embracing the Jewish people than any other pope in modern history with the possible exception of Pope John the 23rd.

Why is that important? Because after over 2000 years of Christian based anti Semitism we have an opportunity to turn it all around. And with every successive pope steps have been taken in that direction. The Pope is due to visit Israel in a few weeks. I believe that is a tremendous opportunity to show him that we welcome his efforts in this regard and truly appreciate his dedication to that cause.

I believe that much of anti-Semitism throughout history since Churban Bayis Sheni (the destruction of the 2nd Temple) is based on pre-Vatican II church doctrine. This doctrine followed the protestant break from the church that began with Martin Luther and continued with all successive denominational breaks.

The tide has definitely turned in our lifetime. Catholics have now embraced Judaism as a ‘brother’ religion. Protestant Christians too have had a sea change in attitude – at least when it comes to Evangelical Christians which is the fastest growing religious movement in America. No one is more pro Israel than they are – including most Jews.

By contrast membership in mainstream Christian denominations is declining rapidly as was indicated by a study recently released . That study had an interesting twist to it. It showed that though most Americans are rejecting their church dogma and formal religion - they remained believers in God.

This could be what the Rambam had in mind when he said that Christianity is a step in the right direction for mankind that will ultimately bring Moshiach. By the time of the Rambam’s era – civilized man had mostly rejected paganism and idolatry – and adopted Christianity – a form of monotheism we call Shituf. Many Rishonim - medieval commentators - held this to be a permissible form of monotheism for non Jews. It took a long time but as Christianity continues to evolve perhaps their belief in monotheism will soon resemble ours. Maybe Moshiach is not the far behind after all.