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Jewish Leaders Discuss Visit with Pope

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Jewish leaders who participated last Monday in the historic audience with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican underscored today the Pope’s official commitment to the dialogue between Catholics and Jews throughout the world as a significant outcome of the meeting.

“He reaffirmed his commitment to the Guide lines for Religious Relations between Catholics one Jews and to the process of fruitful dialogue between partners,” said Rabbi. Ronald B. Sobel, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) at a press conference sponsored by the Synagogue Council of America.

The Pope’s remarks were made at a private meeting with IJCIC, which comprises five organizations: the Synagogue Council of America, American Jewish Committee, World Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, and the Israel Interreligious Council.

Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of the Interreligious Affairs Department of the AJCommittee, said that other major aspects of the meeting, apart from the Pope’s “personal commitment ” to the “Guidelines,” were the Pope’s affirmation of the “deep linkage between Judaism and Christianity,” the fact that the Pope repudiates anti-Semitism and his statement declaring that he will do “everything in my power for the peace of that land (Israel) which is as holy for you as it is for us.

Tanenbaum also pointed out that after the official statement, the Pope engaged in private conversation with the Jewish leaders, during which he told them that he would like to go to visit Israel “very soon.” It is significant to note, Tanenbam said, that the Pope refers to Israel as a “concrete political reality” wherease his predecessors referred to it as the Holy Land.

Prof Shemaryahu Talmon, president of the Israel Council of Interreligious Consultations suggested that the Pope’s remarks that he would like to visit Israel should be seen in the context in which it was said a private; non-official conversation. He added, however, that he expects him to visit Israel. Rabbi Balfour Brickner, director of Interreligious Affairs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said he believes the Pope’s statement will “intensify” and “make more open” the relations between Jewish and Catholic communities in this country. All president at today’s press conference expressed their satisfaction with the meeting and its implications for future Jewish-Catholic relations.

POPE’S REFERENCE TO ‘RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY’ QUESTIONED

A few said, however, that the Pope failed to understand “what religion means to Jews” because he referred in his statement to the “religious Jewish community” and not to the “Jewish people.” This has implication on the way the church refers to the State of Israel,” Brickner said, adding that the tendency of Christians is to refer to Jews as a religious community while “the Jewish situation is a unique blend of religion and nationality,” and Jews remain Jews “even if they stop believing” which is not the case with Christians.

Prof. Michael Wyschogrod, senior consultant for the Interreligious Affairs Department of the Synagogue Council of America, said that in his view the most important part of the Pope’s statement was his declaration that “Our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their respective religious identities.”

The Jewish leaders at today’s press conference agreed that the fact the meeting took place is important in itself because, as Tanenbaum said, “it was very important to us to get first-hand impressions of the man.” Philip M. Klutznick, who led the delegation to the Pope, was not present at today’s press conference. He was represented by Dr. Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress.

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