Friday, November 29, 2013

A Satmar Chasid and the Pope

Kidney donor,Rabbi Labin (3rd from left) showing Achdus - Photo credit: VIN
There are two stories in the news that that should make a lot of people feel good for entirely different reasons. One is a story that appeared at VIN a couple of days ago about 31 year old Rabbi Yoel Usher Labin. He is Satmar Chasid that donated a Kidney to a fellow Jew.

Not that such altruistic acts are all that uncommon in Satmar. They are known for their acts of Chesed toward their fellow Jews. They do not discriminate about which Hashkafa a Jew adheres to. Nor do they even discriminate if a Jew is even religious or not; or which denomination he belongs to. If a Jew is in trouble and they can help, they will. What I liked about this fellow aside from his true dedication for the health of a fellow Jew, is that he felt a sense of Achdus one rarely sees these days between various Hashkafos. From VIN
In the days prior to his surgery, Rabbi Labin went to several rabbonim from different segments of the Jewish community for brachos, including the Karlsburger Rebbe, the Rachmistrivka Rebbe, R’ Yosef Rosenblum, R’ Herschel Schachter and R’ Mordechai Willig. 
“It wasn’t that I needed their blessings because I knew I was going to do a mitzvah,” explained Rabbi Labin.  “I want to raise awareness for kidney donation and I want people to know about it so I went to both heimishe and Modern Orthodox rabbonim. 
Now that is Achdus. Instead of saying it’s all about me and my Hashkafos, he said it is about Klal Yisroel. And for that I salute him. I only wish there were a lot more like him. It would only benefit us all if we could integrate and share our Hashkafos with each other and adopt some of them into our own world in order to better ourselves as a people… both spiritually and materially.

Pope Francis & the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni
In a totally unrelated story, Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein has a wonderful post at Cross Currents about the current Pope. In it he sings the praises of that man and of how Catholicism has evolved in our day. There was a time not that long ago (about 50 or so years ago in fact) that Catholic Church doctrines did not recognize the Judaism as a valid religion, they considered us as having broken our covenant with God and no longer deserving to be considered God’s chosen people. And they blamed our ancestors for the crucifixion of Jesus and that we – their descendants - carried the burden of that ‘sin’.

They no longer believe that. Pope John the 23rd began the process of changing that attitude into one of acceptance of our validity - blameless for the crucifixion. They now acknowledge that we have retained our covenant with God and consider us an older brother religion. Pope Paul fulfilled his predecessor’s wishes in Vatican II. It is now Church doctrine. And it seems as though with every succeeding Pope since then, the relationship has improved. 

But there are still those whose memories of the past prevent them from seeing Catholicism and the Pope in anything but bad terms. I can’t really blame them, especially if they are Holocaust survivors and old enough to remember how anti Semitic the Church was in Europe before the Holocaust. Throughout Jewish history there have been pogroms against the Jewish people wherever the lived. ‘Good’ Christians felt that persecuting us was a Mitzvah because we killed their god. Ending with the ultimate pogrom, the Holocaust. 

While it is true that those responsible for the Holocaust were not Catholics, and were probably even atheists, it is rather well known that religious Roman Catholic Poles were all too eager to carry out the wishes of their Nazi occupiers. This has recently been demonstrated by a movie produced by Poles with a conscience that depicts the truth about a Polish town where the Jewish half of its citizens slaughtered by the non Jewish half. Jews were rounded up, placed in a barn and burned to death. The townspeople had always claimed it was the Nazis that did it. But evidence now shows that it was the Polish people of that town. 

To now believe that Roman Catholics have done ‘a 180’ about us - is therefore very difficult for these people. But the fact is that the Catholic Church has done a 180. And the current Pope, Pope Francis is the the most positive thing that has happened in the Church for the Jewish people since Pope John the 23rd. From Rabbi Adlerstein’s article:
 (A) major document (officially called an apostolic exhortation) that Pope Francis (was) released a short while ago.
Overall, the document is extremely warm and accommodating to Jews and Judaism. It speaks of friendship for a Jewish people that enjoys significance in an irrevocable covenantal relationship with G-d. It owns up to the debt owed to them, and apologizes for their past persecution when done by Christians.
The document includes language important to supporters of Israel looking to defeat the Palestinian and BDS wars against her legitimacy.
The Vatican regards itself as a sovereign state. It has conducted its own foreign affairs for centuries. Nothing gets out with the imprimatur of the Church without every word and nuance being weighed and measured. There are no haphazard or casual expressions, unless multiple people have blundered. Those people are expert in diplomacy, and assessing the impact their words will have on those who scrutinize them.
The connection of Christianity to Judaism is organic, not accidental. He does not ask anything of them, but talks of friendship and a special relationship.
But most important, at least in my reading, are some key words in Section 249: “G-d continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word.” In other words, there is recognition and expectation that Jews remain an עם חכם ונבון/ a wise and comprehending people. They possess Divine wisdom, and those who seek deeper understanding of His ways ought to listen to what they have to say, when they speak in the name of the Torah.
Some of us – myself included – have witnessed this thirst for Jewish insight again and again, from people light-years away from converting. Some of us realize that we are in the first generation in many centuries that we can even think of trying to apply the Torah’s wisdom to the questions that trouble general society – not as part of a polemic, but simply to enhance the good of humanity, and Hashem’s glory. 
I could not agree more! I have felt this way for quite some time now. And I believe that my beliefs about the Catholic Church are being borne out and felt by a wider range of Orthodox Jews, including Charedi Jews to the right of Rabbi Adlerstein. This is a very welcome change from the Catholicism of the past - dating back over 2000 years. The relationship is long past thawing. It is warming up. That is a good thing and I think we ought to take advantage of it by offering our own hand in friendship.