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September 21, 2015 2:31 pm

Prominent New York Rabbis Relish Pope’s Yom Kippur Visit

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

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Pope Francis. His visit to the United States has rabbis looking forward to enhancing Catholic-Jewish relations. Photo: Facebook.

Pope Francis. His visit to the United States has rabbis looking forward to enhancing Catholic-Jewish relations. Photo: Facebook.

Pope Francis’s landing in the United States on Tuesday marks a date just a few weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican’s adoption of the Nostra Aetate, a document that absolved the Jewish people of culpability for the death of Jesus Christ and, officially at least, ended thousands of years of hostility between the Holy See and Jews. Indeed, the five decades since the opening of Vatican II has seen something of a golden age of Jewish-Catholic relations, underscored by symbolic papal visits to Israel, Nazi concentration camps in Europe and even a U.S. synagogue.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York’s Park East Synagogue received the papal knighthood last April, and met the pope just a month later during Francis’s inaugural and somewhat controversial visit to the Holy Land: Pope Francis raised a few eyebrows in Israel after he took an unannounced break at a section of Israel’s West Bank security barrier, near Bethlehem, to offer a prayer for peace.

But all political controversy aside — in a region perennially plagued by it — Pope Francis’s visit to Israel last year underlined the process of normalization between the Vatican and Jews that has been underway for decades, with the pope visiting the Memorial for Victims of Terror, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the Western Wall, where Schneier greeted him.

“I said to him, life is a charity, and through outreach I want to give you the tefilat haderekh, the traveler’s prayer, so that you may be guided in your mission,” Schneier recalled for The Algemeiner on Sunday.

As for the pope’s current visit to the U.S., Francis is actually landing on Yom Kippur and will be visiting New York, home to the world’s largest Jewish community outside of Israel.

“The fact that he’s here on Yom Kippur is significant,” said Schneier, who is also the president of the interfaith outreach group, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. “Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, to be at one with God, and also with each other.”

Schneier commended Francis for making Israel one of the first trips of his papacy, saying it reaffirmed his commitment to “wide outreach” in Jewish-Catholic relations.

“He reinforces the foundation that has been laid 50 years ago,” with the adoption of the Nostra Aetate, said Schneier, adding that the process is ongoing. “The Nostra Aetate has to filter down to the local Catholic communities across the world, and you do have some conservative forces that still have not embraced it.”

Pope Francis will have a chance to meet with Jewish leaders at the “Witness for Peace: A Multireligious Gathering” at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, set to take place on Friday. Among those leaders will be Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, the director of Interfaith Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, who welcomed Francis to the U.S. and hoped “that he brings his message of reconciliation and peace.”

Sandmel noted that Francis’s outreach to the Jewish community predates his papacy, including his close relationship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina: the two Argentine religious leaders held a series of interfaith dialogues on several topics, ranging from homosexuality and atheism to death, the Holocaust and capitalism.

Additionally, Sandmel noted the pope’s strong stance against antisemitism, especially in a Europe today that is witness to a rising trend, as well as his commitment to Israel as a Jewish state; earlier this year, Francis sent around a letter alleging that the delegitimization of Israel is essentially antisemitism.

But, given the complexity of Jewish-Catholic relations, and of both religious institutions themselves, relations are not entirely free of tension. The pope drew the ire of Israeli officials and the pro-Israel community when he upgraded relations with the Palestinian Authority earlier this year, recognizing the State of Palestine on an official document.

Additionally, Sandmel explains, there remains the issue of the archives of Pope Pius XII, whose papacy during the Holocaust has led some Jewish groups to oppose his beatification until the Vatican’s role in those dark years is fully exposed.

“Opening the archives would be a significant moment for Catholic-Jewish relations,” Sandmel told The Algemeiner on Monday. “Anything that gets this information out into the light of day is going to be helpful [to Jewish-Catholic relations].”

Sandmel will join other Jewish representatives, as well as representatives of several other faiths, at the 9/11 memorial on Friday.


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  • Suzanna Deutsch

    This Pope seems to be a good human being with real concern for the poor and for the climate, two important issues. He is certainly not an anti-Semite.People can obviously have different opinions on the Pope and on his visit. However, I am surprised that the “Algemeiner” would publish the crude and disgusting comment by “Rose.”It has no place in a reputable publication.

  • yaakov

    Wouldn’t the millions of NYC tax dollars spent on his security be better used for helping save children from Syria? Or helping homeless and poor in NYC? Wouldn’t this some how make up for what the Vatican didn’t do during shoah? Seems like a shande to me…

  • Rose k.

    Wonder if any of those “prominent NY rabbis” got down and kissed the goy’s thing.

  • LS

    “culpability for the death of Jesus Christ”

    His name isn’t “Jesus Christ”. That is a religious title for use by Christians, which means “Jesus the Messiah”. His name is Jesus, or Jesus of Nazareth.

  • JJ Gross

    I am sick and tired of self-appointed, self promoting ‘prominent’ rabbis with one man foundations they elect themselves ‘president’ of. I would like to see this luminary read a simple Rashi. I would not bet on his ability to do so. I have nothing for or against against the current pope. But i doubt if the rabbi in question wouldn’t prostrate himself for any pope even the notorious Pius or the Hitler Jugend pope who preceded this one , if it would mean getting his name into the NY Times.

  • DocReality

    Can we have a little reality check here? This Pope is no friend to Israel and no friend to the Jews. The Vatican’s track-record of anti-Semitism remains unscathed.

  • Rabbi Dr Shalom Coleman CBE AM

    This event is a significant gesture of goodwill and thanks to Rabbi Arthur Schneier for his consistent leadership in strengthening relations of understanding between the Jewish people and other faiths. I recall his Synagogue facing the Soviet Consulate in New York and his courageous leadership in the “Let My People Go” Campagn. May Hashem Yisborach grant him and all supporters of his work for a Rosh Hashana of even greater strength of achievement in good health and all desires fulfilled for him, his family,and Klal Yisrael. On a personal note Rabbi Schneier introduced me to many valued leaders of Jewish life and Institutions while on a visit to New York as part of an international Jewish scholarship in 1964 devoted to research into Adult Education in the USA, Israel and S.E. Asia. Gmar Chatima Tova – Rabbi Dr Shalom Coleman Perth Western Australia

  • Jonas

    What about a moral reckoning and the unfulfilled duty of repair!!!