Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi has strongly criticized the participation of the Jewish-born archbishop of Paris at a Tel Aviv University conference, which was scheduled to take place on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Speaking at the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem on Sunday, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau accused Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who converted to Catholicism during the Holocaust, of “having chosen the most difficult period to desert the front of the struggle for survival of the Jewish people.”
Lustiger, who was born 69 years ago as Aharon Lustiger to Polish Jews who immigrated to Paris, was scheduled to speak Wednesday at the conference. Titled “The Silence of God,” the conference was scheduled to examine the attitude of various religions toward the Holocaust.
In 1940, the 14-year-old Lustiger converted to Catholicism. His mother died at the Auschwitz death camp, and he himself is considered a Holocaust survivor.
Lau, also a Holocaust survivor, told Israel Television on Sunday night, “By his conversion to Catholicism, and by his ordination, he has eliminated the Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) from his life, and has joined the one religion that hounded us and shed our blood for centuries.”
“He comes to speak of the silence of God, but should instead explain the silence of Pope Pius XII, who never uttered a word of condemnation during the Holocaust,” said Lau, who declined an invitation to appear with Lustiger at an open session of the conference.
Lau added that he considers Lustiger “a babe who was captured,” and that he still expects Lustiger to “return to the fold of his people.”
Professor Yoram Dienstein, president of Tel Aviv University, which organized the conference, expressed regret over Lau’s reaction, particularly, he said, at a time when dialogue between Israel and the Catholic Church is intensifying.
Dienstein told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that Lustiger received the Vatican’s permission to participate in the conference.
Lustiger said in a lengthy interview with Ha’aretz that he still considers himself a Jew, and expressed the wish to come and live in Israel one day.