The Pope’s Paper: It Ain’t Your Grandmother’s Catholicism
Many Jews are so scarred (rightfully so!) by stories of horrors perpetrated upon us in the name of Christianity, that those stories become a defining part of their reality. Christian hatred of Jews is a given, as real and permanent as gravity. They cannot imagine a world without it. If you are one of those, please stop reading. The rest is not for you.
If you have room in your world view for change in the way some people relate to us, and we to them, you might be interested in learning about salient points of the major document (officially called an apostolic exhortation) that Pope Francis 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. As I generally eschew political commentary in these pages, I will not write here about that part of the story. BE”H, I hope to publish on it in the general media. I will bring one point, however, to the attention of our readers. I believe it presents an important compliment – and challenge – to frum Jews.
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.
This makes it interesting to compare what the document says about Muslims (to whom the Pope also extends the olive branch) with what it says concerning Jews.
Here, in part, is what the document says about Muslims and Islam:
Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”… It is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services.
In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!
The interest in Muslims is magnified by their immigration to Christian countries. There is some sharing of values. Many take G-d seriously. Francis gives them not so subtle mussar about the importance of learning to respect others, and asks for reciprocity of the freedoms and privileges that Christians have given them.
All of this is absent in his treatment of Jews. The connection of Chistianity 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.
It is quite a challenge. How much are we doing to own up to it, and to equip ourselves and our children with the tools to create a kind of Kiddush Hashem that was unthinkable for centuries?