Jammin’ with the Pope

Others can continue the debate about the delegation that visited with the Pope and provided a bit of a musical interlude. R. Yair Hoffman provided excellent historical and halachic background, showing how common such meetings have been in the past, and what halachic sanctions there could be for them. 

My contribution will be two observations that highlight the chochmah of gedolei Yisrael.

The very first time I was asked by an arm of the Israeli government to accompany a group of Christian pastors to Israel, I sought the counsel of R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlit”a. I expected some pondering of halachic issues that I had not thought of. Instead, R. Shmuel told me something that I have carried with me in countless encounters with members of other faith communities. “Go,” he said. “But make sure that you are not mevater on the kavod of Klal Yisrael.”

I was not zocheh to have been a talmid of R. Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, zt”l. I can only convey what I have read, and what I have heard from reliable others. R. Soloveitchik was no great fan of the ecumenical dialogue common in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.[1] He turned down a meeting with a Vatican representative, so long as Rome refused to recognize the State of Israel. (That has since taken place.) He spoke disapprovingly of attempts to convey religious experience to those outside of the community of its practitioners. )See, for example, his essay, “Confrontation.”)

Yet it is simply not true that he opposed all interfaith dialogue. Rather, he was unwilling to entrust such dialogue to anyone whom he did not trust as a ben Torah, or who lacked the philosophical sophistication with which to cogently and elegantly represent Torah interests, or who was not deeply conversant with the ways and mind of the Church. He did trust Rabbi Dr. Walter Wurzberger z”l, who acted with his blessings. After his petirah, the baton moved to the capable hand of, lehavdil bein chaim l-chaim, Rabbi Dr Dovid Berger. In these matters, הלבה כמותו בכל מקום.

Some of us who have studied the ways of the Vatican (and I say all of this without the slightest tinge of criticism) understand the care and precision they invest in every public statement, and can testify to the sense of regal majesty that they insist upon. We watched the comportment of the recent Jewish delegation with raised eyebrows. We cannot help but feel that those more experienced in Vatican protocol and in Catholic thought might have presented themselves somewhat differently. R. Soloveitchik was correct.

Even those who know nothing of these matters, however, will watch the videos differently after considering R. Shmuel’s pithy and sage advice. He, too, was correct.

[1] There are other kinds, although this is not the place for their full description. They range from discussion of matters of common interest, to forging political alliances, to creating kiddush Hashem and placing Hashem, Torah, and Klal Yisrael in the best possible light.

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16 Responses

  1. Shades of Gray says:

    When someone showed me  the clip yesterday, I thought back to a  Cross Currents article   in 2006,
     “The Cardinals, Chovevei Torah, and Crossing Lines”. There Rabbi Adlerstein noted that 
    “It is inconceivable that a group of rabbis would be received in Rome by a group of guitar-strumming cardinals singing Lema’an Achai in Latin …Warm hospitality is fine. I could not think of a poorer selection of song with which to greet them, however, than Lema’an Achai”.
    Assuming the Glucks asked a sheilah, I  wonder if  the specific song  played a role in the context. The Glucks were essentially wishing arichas yamim to the pope, an appropriate gesture in of itself, but doing it non-conventionally,  with a rekidah instead of giving a written proclamation or a gift. Perhaps this  is different than the religious  fraternity in a Beis Midrash  of  “Leman Achai” , which is more of sharing a  private, faith- experience that  Rav Soleveitchik  eschewed.
    On a non-theological  note(excuse the pun)   apparently they enjoy Carlebach in the Vatican.
    Zev Brenner said at  this year’s Carlebach Yartzeit concert,  that from the Agudah Convention  to the Catholic Church, they either sing, or are  familiar with Carlebach music(compare with Ari Goldman’s NYT obituary  which noted that  “Rabbi Carlebach put the words of Jewish prayer and ceremony to music that is heard at virtually every Jewish wedding and bar mitzvah, from Hasidic to Reform).

    • Nachum says:

      My wife and I once passed a church in Venice where a wedding was taking place. The door was open, and you could clearly hear the Carlebach tune being played.

      Or maybe it just sounded like that to us. 🙂

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent article. R Hoffman left me wondering why there was no discussion of Confrontation and the views of RYBS and those who are his talmidim muvhakim on this issue.

    • mycroft says:

      Generally agree. There are writings of at least some who I suspect would satisfy Steves “talmidim muvhakim” from at least  fifty years ago written while the Rav was very much with us and active which I never see cited. For some reason after the Ravs petirah the definition of terms theological vs non theological starts from scratch rather than at least considering how it was interpreted during the time of the Rav.

      i believe in first approximation not much would change in general ideas but IMO one might get a more nuanced flavor that IMO would actually satisfy neither the left or the right in this area.

  3. Karen Silver says:

    Anything that makes two people see one another more clearly is a blessing whether it’s meeting with the pope or having a cataract taken out.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Another example of the John Lennon School of comparative theology on full display

  4. I am not sure why this topic is subject to so much discussion. The group in question represents no one. Their actions, wise or otherwise (haha), will have no bearing on anyone’s reality. Whether or not their actions were in line with R. Solevechik’s view on interfaith dialouge, or R. Hirsch’s, is completely irrelevant, because these people do not represent Jews or their leadership.

    Discussing this, in my opinion, is at best a waste of time. At worst, it is lashon hora. Boring lashon hora at that.

  5. Weaver says:

    Random thought: Crosses present a halachic issue, but I would say most of our instinctive aversion to a cross comes from its historic association with anti-Semitism in Europe than from purely halachic considerations. It’s similar to the practice of saying kaddish for someone who married a Christian in Europe – it is sociologically and historically understandable, but it has nothing to do with halacha.

  6. Observer says:

    “R. Yair Hoffman provided excellent historical and halachic background, showing how common such meetings have been in the past”.

    How common?! He gave maybe examples of eight meetings over around nine hundred years. In my book that doesn’t qualify as common.

    When Chazal went to Rome, they engaged in special Torah study in preparation for such ‘summit meetings’ (even if the circumstances were not exactly identical then, but there are nonetheless significant parallels). Such meetings were not taken lightly. Delicate and complicated matters need to be handled by high level sages and experts, not by low-level amateurs, and traveling minstrels.

    Boruch Hashem we still have gedolim who can advise us about such matters with true daas Torah. Such questions are not for some local lightweight to handle.

    • mycroft says:

      we might not know the the amount of meetings between leaders of the Catholic Church and Jewish Rabbis. Who says that if the purpose on both sides was for discussion a press release must be issued. There certainly have been meetings not reported in the press. Not everything done need be reported n the press and maybe she not run to have press coverage.

  7. dr.bill says:

    i just read the articles and watched the videos of this event.  i now have a different reaction.  this group of Jews is driven by a religious fervor driven by their focus on Jewish graves.  Quoting the ostensibly halakhic views (of (kalte) litvaks no less,) mistakes the power of religion in comparison to halakha.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      One wonders whether they raven Mincha before Shekiyah?take a look at a recent story about the SR dawning well before Shekiyah and the comment of RYK about such a zecus on a recent issue of Jewish Action.

  8. Raymond says:

    I suppose that my position on this issue would depend on why those religious Jews met the Pope in the first place.  If it is to discuss Middle East politics, or any other subject other than religion, then I see little or no problem with it.  However, since the religiosity of all involved is obviously their most distinct feature, it is reasonable to assume that they met either explicitly or implicitly to discuss religion.  And then the matter becomes more complex.  For if the purpose is merely to share their differing religious views of the world, then I see very little point in having such a meeting.  If anything, it would be a somewhat negative venture, as it would imply that Catholicism has equal spiritual footing with Judaism, which clearly it does not, at least from a Jewish point of view.  On the other hand, perhaps the key role that we Jews have in this world is to teach the world about G-d with all that such a belief implies.  While it is necessary to be good role models to establish our credibility, that is simply not enough.  We must also actively teach the world about G-d.  However, being that our resources are extremely limited, and given the centuries long history of antisemitism exhibited by so much of the world, we must proceed with caution when engaging in such educating of the world.  Besides, before we worry about teaching about G-d to the whole world, our first priority must be on our own Jewish people.  So many Jews are being lost to assimilation, that it strikes me that focusing on our own Jewish people would keep us far too busy to worry about the rest of the world.  So I would say that while it probably makes little sense to reach out to the gentile world, that nevertheless, if any given gentile is sincerely interested in learning about our religion from our point of view, and that gentile has no hidden agenda to convert us nor has any pre-conceived notion to dismiss anything we have to say, then at that point, I do not see a problem with teaching such a gentile about Judaism.   If nothing else, maybe such knowledge would help lessen the antisemitic notions of us Jews that that gentile might have in his head.  The bottom line to all this is that I probably do think that it would have been better for those religious Jews to have not met with the Pope after all, as it is very likely nothing but a waste of time and energy.

  9. DF says:

    The problem is that we religious Jews know we  have different standards from other Jews, yet we don’t seem to appreciate that many Catholics likewise have different standards than nominal Christians. If we know that secular Jewish institutions don’t speak for us, cant we also realize that secular Gentile institution don’t speak for them?

    We wouldn’t tolerate a group of Christians, however well meaning, dancing and chanting Christian songs around any of our great Rabbis.  All the more so Catholics don’t appreciate it  concerning the Pope, a unique institution not comparable to anything to contemporary Judaism. We need to always keep R. Akiva’s paraphrase of the Golden Rule uppermost: Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you.

  10. mycroft says:

    It is very important to be careful in using language with other religions to ensure that there is not a different connotation when they use it than when we use it. Similarly, when taking offense at a statement by another religion look at it also from their vantage was it intended to be insulting it may not have despite in our view it would be. I do not mean that one must accept such a statement but the correction must be done politely and diplomatically.

    An  example might be the following the vast majority of poskim treat a major religion as AZ, but it may not be appropriate or accurate to use the English term idolatry which usually refers to the worship of a picture or object as God. They generally do not do that. Thus, it does not bother them that we consider them AZ a different fundamental belief but will object to any implication that they worship as a God statutes or pictures.

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