Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Next Pope and the Jews

by Seth Chalmer
Pope and Jews
When the next pope is elected, pronouncements from major Jewish organizations will follow this basic script:

Mazel tov. Your recent predecessors did many good things for the Jews; please expand them. Your predecessors also did many bad things for the Jews; please admit this and do better. Mazel tov again, and keep in touch.

Different organizations will highlight different issues: Some Jewish leaders will be most concerned with anti-Semitism, Vatican relations with Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; others will focus on interfaith dialogue on theology and history; others will discuss social and economic policy, and the place of religion in politics and the public square. But whatever concerns are mentioned, this much is certain: The organized Jewish community will present a long wish list to the chief cleric of a religion in which it does not believe.

That is no problem in itself. Religious communities seeking to coexist have every reason to discuss their grievances. But sometimes Jewish leaders expect more from Christians (and from the Catholic Church in particular) than it is reasonable to ask.

For example, in April 2005, a few days after Pope Benedict was elected, the Jewish Daily Forward quoted Rabbi Leon Klenicki, former director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, as saying, “If he stresses Jesus is the only way of salvation then we are in trouble. . . . If he’s going to relate to the world Jewish community and others, he will have to work to reconsider his previous positions, especially vis a vis Jews and Judaism. Otherwise he is going to be a pope of the Middle Ages when he has to face the twenty-first century.”

I cannot imagine many Catholics welcoming the idea that a non-Christian is qualified to declare which Christian doctrines are best suited to what century. We in the Jewish community should resist the urge to tell Christians how to be Christian. To do so is neither valid interfaith dialogue, which respects the other group’s right to define its own beliefs, nor valid proselytism, which is honest enough to seek the other party’s conversion forthrightly.

Continue reading.

Seth Chalmer is assistant director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU. 

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