The Pope and the Jews

March 1, 2013 1:34 am 5 comments

Caption: Pope Benedict XVI. Photo: Kancelaria Prezydenta RP.

Pope Benedict’s resignation sends an important message to our own religious leadership. Know when it’s time to step down. What humility it takes for someone to realize that he does not have the strength or the capacity to lead such a significant movement. No pope has had that quality for over six hundred years. Like most geriatric leaders, they have invariably held on until the Almighty (or His agent) has put them out of their misery.

Religions have always faced the challenges of how to get the faithful to behave in practice according to the ideals and original visions of their founders. Haven’t you noticed how they love to talk about peace and goodwill on earth and loving one’s fellow human being, yet at the same time tend to disregard the feelings and sensitivities of others? They seem to believe that only the faithful deserve love and concern and all the rest had better either agree with them or face the consequences. All religions now face the challenge of self-indulgent materialism, to which the overwhelming majority of humans on earth subscribe, regardless of faith. And all religions suffer from the abuses of power, of petty men and women seeking to control, bully, and fight their internecine battles as though this was what they were created for.

It is true that religions also have their saints and altruistic souls who toil and struggle to improve the human condition and to help individuals of all sorts cope with the pressures of life. They may actually be the majority. But on balance it’s the abuses and misuses that get the publicity.

A public religious leader has to be charismatic and of saintly disposition; ideally a scholar too. But he has also to be a strong CEO controlling an unwieldy organization; a disciplinarian to rope in rogue clerics; a fighter to hold firm against the inroads of secularism and fanaticism; a warm empathetic healer of souls. Such a person doesn’t exist. But to come close requires strength and energy. Normally large organizations and parties promote up through the ranks and the safe men of consensus tend to get the job. Think of the Russian Communist party; but then think of the exception in Gorbachev. Similarly, the papacy with its exceptions like John XXIII and John Paul II.

The Catholic Church has been facing very serious internal issues of sexual abuse and financial corruption. The very size of the papal bureaucracy–with its rival departments, interests, and theologians–has been compounding its difficulties. In Europe the Church is in serious decline. The largest Catholic communities are in the Americas; yet there too it is shrinking and facing the growing popularity of Pentecostal churches. And in the Middle East, Pakistan, and China, the Catholic Church is actually under serious assault.

The last seriously reforming pope was John XXIII, but those who have followed him have been conservative. They have fought to preserve a hard line orthodoxy that in fact has proven to be an ineffective response to the challenges they face.

The single most notable change in the Catholic Church in my lifetime has been its attitude towards the Jews. The history of the papacy has been one of persecution. The norm was to attack Jews and Judaism. Only rare exceptions extended any sort of sympathy. Pope Pius IX, who died in 1878, supported baptizing and kidnapping a Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, and refusing to ever hand him back to his parents. Pope Pius XII was accused of not condemning Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, and although he may have turned a blind eye to sheltering some Jewish victims, many in his Church stood in the way of returning Jewish children who were rescued by Christians.

We owe a tremendous debt to John XXIII for beginning the process of reconciliation that Benedict XVI has so formidably championed. From a Jewish point of view, the last two popes have both been influenced by the Holocaust and have been the most positive and supportive of Jews and Israel. From being the branch of Christianity least well disposed towards the Jews it has now overtaken by far most of the established Protestant churches who are now solidly sadly in the thrall of anti-Israelism. Even so, they have faced opposition within their own house.

The Church is not monolithic. The record of the South American Church on anti-Semitism is a lamentable one. The leading candidates for the papacy from South America have been caught on record making anti-Semitic statements. We have no idea what the next one will be like. Nevertheless, for their sake, I hope the Church chooses a young, dynamic, and aggressive leader who will stem the collapse in Europe and allow a more progressive mood to shake up the old order.

All this reminds me of why we should take a leaf out of the pope’s book. Who are the leaders of the Jewish religious world today? One thinks of the late Rav Shach and Rav Elyashiv, and Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Shteinman today, to mention only the most prominent. They are a gerontocracy of men who, in their nineties, might still have amazing brains, honed on years of study and analysis. They might also be the most pious of men. Yet it is also clear that they are tired and weak and out of touch with the world around them. Rav Shteinman refuses to make any compromise on allowing those Charedi young men who do not want to sit and study to go into the army. Rav Yosef calls Naftali Bennett worse than a non-Jew because he refuses to abide by Charedi authority. Because of their infirmity, they are surrounded by warring family heirs, political fixers, gatekeepers, and secretaries who shelter them and filter through what they want to let the great man see and hear. These men have been and are national treasures. But just as Benedict will now relinquish the burdens of leadership to younger, stronger men and devote himself to study alone, so too ought these wise men in Judaism.

The challenges Judaism faces in Israel, mainly for that is where it is strongest, are so important and yet the present reactions of its leadership are akin to paralysis. There is no sense of the need for new perspectives and new ways of dealing with the challenges. Orthodoxy, like the Catholic Church, is awash with sexual and financial scandals. It thinks it can deal with them itself when clearly it can’t, and as a result it is allowing an impression of corrupt decadence to emerge as the face of ultra-Orthodoxy. When this happens, it is time for either a peaceful change or a revolution. And as we know, most revolutions are dangerous and painful things.

And I must get in a PS against that despicable travesty of “moderate” Islam, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, and his foul-mouthed abuse of Zionism before a UN audience again. He pleads for Islamophobia to be outlawed, and I agree with that. So long as he includes Israelophobia, Zionaphobia, and Kurdophobia on his list of moral outrages. But of course he can’t, because that’s precisely what he’s guilty of. What a two-faced hypocrite.

5 Comments

  • Nicely said, Mr. Rosen. Well, except for the use of the term ‘islamophobia’. A Phobia is defined as any fear that is not based in reality. Any non-muslim who’s paid attention since 9-11 or for that matter since the days of Muhammad can testify that there is indeed very much to fear. Sadly, for those truly peaceful among them who are cowed into complacency by the violent minority following the prophet’s teachings as immutable law,the religion demands that non-Muslims be seen as ‘infidels’ to be abused, taxed, ruled, and killed if necessary until and unless they bow before the sword of Islam. I did’t make that up, Mr. Rosen. It’s in the Koran where the later violent teachings negate any earlier benign ones. And no Muslim scholar could deny that this ‘law of abbrogation’ is why we ‘infidels’ have every good reason to fear Muslims.

  • One can clearly see this phenomenon with Zionist Organization of America (“ZOA”) and Mort Klein, its President. Times have changed but these two haven’t. Insurrection is afoot and ZOA has now lost its non-profit tax deductible status. Klein is ill and appears to believe that the only reason ZOA now exists is to pay his one million dollar annual salary, which represents more than ore than 70% of currently raised funds. Time for more than collaboration in this instance, has finally arrived.

  • Very well written article! Problems cited in the article are real and dangerous for the spiritual and physical well being of the Jewish people.

  • You must also question more local Jewish leadership. How can the Jewish leaders in Vienna totally ignore the international scandal on their doorstep of the Schlesinger twins? Again we see Rabbis totally ineffective against the more sinister people within their midst. Go to http://helpbeth.org or google “Save the Schlesinger Twins” for more information.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.