By Geoffrey Paul
January 6, 2010
If you have been following The Times' correspondence this week on Pope Pius XII and the Jews, you will have seen references to Pinchas Lapide, who is cited without exception in every Catholic defence of Pius's wartime attitude towards the Jews and their Nazi persecutors. Lapide is the sole source for claims that Pius saved at least 700,000 Jews from the Nazis, a claim for which there has never been any proof and which is even an embarrassment to some of those Catholics who claimed Pius was a defender of the Jews.
Lapide is variously described as an "Orthodox Jewish rabbi and historian" (in one reference as "an eminent Orthodox rabbi") or "a leading Israeli scholar who was Israel Consul in Milan." The diplomatic posting is a fact. So was Lapide's employment as a lecturer at Bar-Ilan. I first met him in the Israel Government Press Office in Jerusalem in the mid-'60s where he occupied a small office whose door seemed perpetually closed, except to admit Christian clergymen who usually arrived muffled up so as not to show their collars or crosses.
Lapide wrote a string of books, in German and published in Germany, examining in detail, with extensive references from medieval Jewish scholars, "the Jewishness of Jesus" of which he was a fervent proponent. Curiously, for one described as an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Lapide proclaimed his belief that, while not the Messiah, Jesus was indeed resurrected from the dead by God. He was a not unsurprising defender of the Vatican's wartime record. Lapide died about 13 years ago. His widow, Ruth Lapide, has been widely honoured in Germany, where she lives, for her own writings on the Jewish roots of Christianity.