Pope Lifts Excommunication of Anti-Semitic Bishop

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the Catholic Church would reintegrate four bishops that the church had excommunicated in 1988 because they were ordained by Archbishop Michel Lefebvre, the founder of a breakaway Traditionalist Catholic sect, Society of St. Pius X. Jewish groups around the world have protested the reinstatement of Richard Williamson, a Briton who denies the historical truth of the Holocaust. Liberal Catholics in the US are also waking up to the fact that Williamson apparently denies that terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It’s one of the many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to which Williamson subscribes. For a comprehensive run-down on Williamson’s anti-Semitism, see Professor Rebecca Lesses’ blog, which has a translation an article from the German newspaper Der Spiegel on some of the scary things that Williamson has said, including suggesting that conservative Catholics arm to fight other Catholics.

Though Williamson is the most colorfully, scarily anti-Semitic (and also anti-gay and apparently just generally prone to saying wildly offensive things) of these four bishops, it’s not surprising that followers of Archbishop Lefebvre hold extreme right-wing positions. The Catholic Church is not a monolithic body, any more than Judaism is a monolithic body. Even within a single country, leaders in the Church can take left, right or centrist positions. Lefebvre supported the Vichy collaboration with the Nazis, the right-wing neo-fascist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen and right-wing dictatorships in other countries as well. His Society of St. Pius X has long been a source of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

It’s difficult for me as a Jew to figure out why this Pope, who is the first to visit a US synagogue and only the second to visit a synagogue at all, would make such a decision. One would think that he would be eager to distance himself from his past, apparently forced, membership in the Hitler Youth. My guess is that he decided that it was more important to have unity within the Church, and possibly to have support for other traditionalist positions on gender and sexuality, than it was to maintain the positive relations with the Jewish community that he and his predecessor had so carefully fostered.

One Catholic blogger points out that though the bishops’ excommunication was reversed, the Pope has not reinstated them to “exercise their ministry,” and also has not said that the original excommunication was wrong. Still, it looks to those of us outside the Church like the Pope is throwing his relationships with Jews under a bus in order to promote Church unity.

I don’t regard this position as reflecting anything about the Catholic leaders here in the United States who have reached out to the Jewish community, nor indeed does it have anything to do with centrist Catholic clergy in other countries. I’m going to continue to forge alliances and build friendships with the devout Catholics in my life who have consistently reached out to me as a Jew.

Sometimes when something feels familiar, it’s not good

When I heard that there was a shooting at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, I thought about the shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation. I didn’t consider for a second that this was something random–I thought that the shooter must be targetting these people because of what he thinks they believe. It’s scary to think about people being unsafe practicing religion in the United States, where we take pride in our freedom to speak and to worship. My heart goes out to the survivors.  

No Longer Greek to Me

I always thought that Tom Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, was a charming woman and a good actress. She met Tom when she played an idealistic Jewish Peace Corps member in the 1985 film, Volunteers. Hanks starred as a WASP playboy who joined the Peace Corps to get out of the country just ahead of some gangsters who wanted to kill him because he could not pay some gambling debts. Of course, the playboy and the Jewish idealist fall in love.

Wilson, who is the daughter of Greek Orthodox immigrants, recently wrote a piece on the joys of Greek Orthodox Easter for the Huffington Post. This year the Greek Orthodox celebrate Easter on April 27.

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A Catholic Controversy

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The Latin prayer that includes a call for the conversion of the Jews continues its controversial revitalization, reports the New York Times.

Since I know next to nothing about Catholic liturgy, I won’t presume to have a firm opinion on the issue. For two informed takes on the controversy, read (Catholic) James Carroll’s call to bury the prayer in the Boston Globe and (Jewish) Hillel Halkin’s call to accept it in the New York Sun.

Learning About Christianity

One thing that always strikes me about my Christian friends is how curious they are about Judaism. But the reverse doesn’t hold true for my Jewish friends. Very few are particularly curious about Christianity–indeed, ignorance of Christianity is almost a badge of honor among Jews.

I’ve always attributed this willful ignorance to anxiety. Anxiety over our minority status, and anxiety over what it means to be Jewish. We (and I include myself) have a hard time explaining how we are Jewish, but we know how we are not. We may not read the Torah, but we definitely don’t read the New Testament. We may not keep Shabbat, but we definitely don’t celebrate Easter. We may not believe in God, but we definitely don’t believe in Jesus. We modern secular Jews are often defined more by what we aren’t than what we are. And since we know so little about Judaism, it would seem almost like a betrayal to learn about Christianity.

But that doesn’t make it right.

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Saving Your Date From Hell

I’m always fascinated by the approach of other religions and cultures to interfaith and intercultural marriage. A few have similar concerns to the Jewish community; Zoroastrians, for example, share the same sense of anxiety over dwindling numbers. Others, however, have radically different perspectives on interdating.

Take Evangelicals, for example. Unlike Jews, a shrinking or static population is not a concern. Also unlike Jews, culture has nothing to do with their connection to each other. Belief–in God, in Jesus, in the need to embrace Jesus to go to heaven–is everything.
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The Jewish Cardinal

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Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger died on Sunday.

Cardinal Lustiger was a key figure in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue that Pope John Paul II so valued. He was the Pope’s representative at the commemoration ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 2005 and served as a middle man between Jews and the Church on sensitive issues like Catholic anti-Semitism. He was uniquely fitted for these responsibilities because he was actually born a Jew–a fact that made many Jewish figures who worked with him uncomfortable.

He was born in Paris to secular Polish-Jewish emigres in 1926. Following the German invasion of France in 1940, he and his sister were sent for their own protection to live with a Catholic woman. At 13, he was baptized. Despite his conversion, he considered himself Jewish: “I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many,” he once said. And, in a way, he had the most unassailable Jewish credentials: his mother died as a Jew in Auschwitz.
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Critical Mass?

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A week and a half ago, the Pope issued a decree authorizing Catholic clergy to conduct the old Latin Mass without permission of the Church. This bit of liturgical news wouldn’t seem to be of much interest to anyone other than Catholics, but nothing involving the Catholic Church is ever just about Catholics. The Good Friday edition of the old Latin Mass includes a prayer for Jews to convert to Christianity. The potential revival of this prayer was not received very positively in the Jewish world; Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League and self-appointed spokesman for the Jewish community, called the news “disturbing.”

I have a variety of responses to this news: as a Jew, as a secular observer of the Catholic Church and as someone interested in the cause of inclusiveness for those in interfaith relationships.

As a Jew, I find the news disappointing but not disturbing. It’s not clear that the Pope’s decree will lead to a widespread revival of the conversion prayer. Even if it does come into more common use, it doesn’t turn back the clock on years of reforms in the Church since Vatican II; this is not going to lead to a restoration of the charge of deicide against the Jews. In the U.S., it will have little to no impact on American Catholics. I highly doubt many priests will decide the way to restore their dwindling congregations is by conducting a Mass with their backs turned to their congregation and speaking in a language that none of his congregants understand. It’s certainly possible that the Latin Mass may be adopted in those parts of the world where Orthodox Catholicism has a strong hold–specifically South America–but there are latent anti-Semitic attitudes there that the introduction of a prayer once a year will not change for good or bad. And, it’s not like calling for the conversion of non-believers is an uncommon practice in Christian churches; one of the most Zionist groups in the world, evangelical churches, make it a point of both calling for the conversion of non-believers and actively missionizing to them. The only difference is that the Southern Baptist Convention never led an Inquisition.
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The Threat of Messianic Judaism

Our new issue on The Threat of Messianic Judaism came out today. We decided to do a story on Messianic Judaism because on the surface, it appears to offer a harmonization of Christian belief and Jewish ritual practice–”the best of both worlds,” so to speak. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that it’s not, that few Jews consider Messianic Jews to be Jewish, that some Messianic organizations are merely fronts for evangelical Christian missionaries.

In the issue, we look at how Messianic missionaries use a variety of approaches to proselytize to Jews: in Phoenix, Messianic Jews run a Judaica store; on the campus of Colorado State University, they hand out pamphlets with fabricated rabbinical quotes; in New York last summer, Jews for Jesus set up kiosks at a shopping mall; and in Germany, they target Russian Jewish immigrants for conversion.
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What We Can Learn from the Zoroastrians

A few days ago, the New York Times published an article by Laurie Goodstein titled http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/06/us/06 … ref=slogin” target=”_blank”>“Zoroastrians Keep the Faith, and Keep Dwindling.” It says nothing about Judaism, but the similarities between the issues the Zoroastrian community and the Jewish community relating to issues of intermarriage are uncanny. If you just replace the word Zoroastrian with Jewish and priest with rabbi, this article could be about the American Jewish community.

“We were once at least 40, 50 million—can you imagine?” said Mr. Antia, senior priest at the fire temple here in suburban Chicago. “At one point we had reached the pinnacle of glory of the Persian Empire and had a beautiful religious philosophy that governed the Persian kings.

”Where are we now? Completely wiped out,” he said. “It pains me to say, in 100 years we won’t have many Zoroastrians.”
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