By Geoffrey Paul
February 10, 2010
Pope Benedict's forthcoming visit to the UK is bound to stimulate discussion about Christian-Jewish relations in the UK. The fact of the matter, here as almost everywhere else in the world. is that contacts on the Jewish side with Christian partners in dialogue are almost entirely handled by Reform and Liberal rabbis and lay leaders. Such Orthodox contacts as there are remain little more than tentative, despite the visits by Israel's Chief Rabbis to the Pope in Rome, the ubiquitous presence of the Orthodox Rabbi David Rosen at international Christian-Jewish gatherings and the Chief Rabbi's joint patronage of the Council of Christians and Jews with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the (Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.
Why Orthodox Jews hold back from this dialogue with Christians, specifically Catholics, who have made historic changes in their deicidic and other attitudes to Jews, was examined intensely in a recent contribution to an Italian Jewish journal by the Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican, Mordecai Lewy, which was picked up and republished in full by the Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano. It makes for a good and challenging read in any language.
Ambassador Lewy recalls that the late and great Rabbi Soloveitchik resented any inter-religious dialogue that lead to discussing principles of faith with Catholics but he didn't mind Jews and Christians talking together about "soft" topics, such as bioethics, ecology, violence, etc. But, Ambassador Lewy notes, "the Catholic Cburch initiated in the Sixties a radical change towards Jews. Conversion is banned to a distant and unknown eschatological horizon. The survivability of Judaism is guaranteed with the establishment of the Jewish State. Their hand is stretched out to us. It would be unwise not to grasp it, lest we mortgage our future in continued animosity with the Catholic world. The first 2000 years do not warrant repetition. Both of us deserve better."
To which I would say "Hear, hear" and "Amen" and "Selah," were it not that the dark, dark shadow of Pius XII continues to hang heavily over every encounter with the Catholic Cburch and Benedict does nothing to shake himself free from the unforgettable and dreadful fate of the hapless Jews of Rome taken away in a day to the death camps from under the very windows of the Vatican itself. Ora pro nobis....