Monday, April 28, 2008

Abraham Foxman: Benedict's meeting with Jews "more show that substance, but for the Vatican even show is substance"

As Jewish leaders reflect on the Pope's Passover greetings with Jews at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and subsesquent visit to a synaogue in New York, some are less than impressed. Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League called it "more show that substance, but for the Vatican even show is substance":

The fact that the pope invited the approximately 50 Jewish representatives to meet with him in a private room was an important gesture, said Foxman, because he "greeted us on the occasion of a Jewish festival, which basically was a recognition of religious Jewish life, Jewish faith, and Jewish rituals, and had that significance."

But there was no real dialogue, in Foxman’s view.

"He reached out, he greeted people and he reiterated his support for Nostra Aetate," the declaration issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that deals with the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic religions, especially with Judaism. "The importance was in the event."


According to Foxman, the pope’s visit to the synagogue was more significant than the private meeting with the Jewish representatives, which he saw as a continuation of a policy began by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, when he visited the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986.

"When Pope John Paul went to that synagogue he changed the dogma of Catholicism, which believes that Christianity superseded Judaism and that it was the new Judaism," Foxman said. "It was a public statement that Judaism exists, that Judaism lives, and that it has vitality."

At the Park East Synagogue, the pope stood before ark "bearing witness to the Jewish faith today, not when [the Catholic] messiah will come," Foxman said.

Foxman is representative of certain factions within the Jewish-Christian dialogue which believe that Nostra Aetate presented a rupture with, or reversal of, prior Catholic tradition. On the contrary, Benedict and his predecessor would read Nostrae Aetate in continuity with prior tradition, and likewise in conjunction with the other conciliar texts.

This was aptly clarified by Cardinal Kasper in a substantial essay defending Pope Benedict XVI's revisions to the "Good Friday prayer for the Jews" in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Das Wann und Wie entscheidet Gott", March 21, 2008; later republished in L'Osservatore Romano April 10, 2008:

... The exclusion of a targeted and institutionalized mission to the Jews does not mean that Christians must stand around with their hands in their pockets. Targeted and organized mission on one side, and Christian witness on the other, must be distinguished. Naturally, Christians must, where it is opportune, give to their older brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham (John Paul II) a witness of their own faith and of the richness and beauty of their faith in Christ. Paul did this as well. During his missionary journeys, Paul always went first to the synagogue, and only when he did not find faith there did he go to the pagans (Acts of the Apostles, 13:5,14ff., 42-52; 14:1-6 and others; Romans 1:16 is fundamental).

Such a witness is also asked of us today. It must of course be done with tact and respect; but it would be dishonest if Christians, in meeting with their Jewish friends, should remain silent about their own faith, or even deny it.

We expect just as much from believing Jews toward us. In the dialogues that I have known, this attitude is entirely normal. A sincere dialogue between Jews and Christians, in fact, is possible only, on the one hand, on the basis of a shared faith in one God, creator of heaven and earth, and in the promises made to Abraham and to the Fathers; and on the other, in the awareness and respect of the fundamental difference that consists in faith in Jesus as Christ and Redeemer of all men.

The widespread incomprehension of the reformulated prayer for Good Friday is a sign of how great the task is that still lies before us in Jewish-Christian dialogue. The reactions of irritation that have arisen should, therefore, be an opportunity for clarifying and further deepening the foundations and objectives of Jewish-Christian dialogue. If a deepening of dialogue could be begun in this way, the agitation that has arisen would lead to a truly positive result in the end. One must certainly always be aware that dialogue between Jews and Christians will remain, by its nature, always difficult and fragile, and that it demands a great degree of sensitivity on both sides.

No dialogue is worth its salt unless it is grounded in truth, even if this amounts to respecting each other's core religious convictions. Rabbi Jacob Neusner exemplified this in comparing the Catholic prayers to those found within Judaic tradition for the enlightening of the Gentiles:
Israel prays for the Gentiles. So the other monotheistic religions, including the Catholic Church, have the right to do the same thing, and no one should feel offended. Any other attitude toward the Gentiles would block them from encountering the one God revealed to Israel in the Torah.

The Catholic prayer [for the conversion of the Jews] manifests the same altruistic spirit that characterizes the faith of Judaism. The kingdom of God opens its gates to all of humanity: when they pray and ask for the swift coming of the kingdom of God, the Israelites express the same degree of freedom of spirit that impregnates the papal text of the prayer for the Jews (better: "Holy Israel ") to be recited on Good Friday. ...

The prayers of Jewish and Christian proselytism share the same eschatological spirit, and keep the gate of salvation open to all men.

On the question of the Messiah, Rabbi Neusner and Pope Benedict part ways -- but the latter was appreciative enough to devote a chapter to exploring Neusner's convictions and disagreements in Jesus of Nazareth ("A Rabbi Debates with the Pope. And What Divides Them Is Still Jesus", by Sandro Magister. www.Chiesa November 6, 2007).

Unlike Neusner, Abraham Foxman of the ADL seems unable to accept Benedict's religious convictions or the Catholic call for conversion. For him, the very notion that Catholics would wish the conversion of another, particularly the Jews, is an affront. It seems that Foxman demands something that Benedict nor the Church can provide.