All the pope and Jews fit to print


Several Jewish and Catholic commentators weigh in on the pope’s visit to the Middle East in a forum organized by The New York Times.

  • Rabbi James Rudin (senior interreligious adviser of the American Jewish Committee): "While Benedict is committed to building mutual respect and understanding between Catholics and Jews, he has made several well-documented and widely reported major “mistakes” (Benedict’s own description of his missteps). He seems to forget he is playing on a world stage and not leading an academic seminar."
  • Colleen Carroll Campbell (author, “The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy”): "The most vocal criticism thus far has come from some Jews who blasted Benedict’s visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as an insulting flop. Among their complaints: Benedict decried the death of “millions” of Jewish Holocaust victims rather citing the more exact estimate of six million Jews; he offered no personal reminiscences of his youth during World War II, including his brief (and unwilling) conscription in the Hitler Youth; and he failed to apologize for the Holocaust. The criticism is unfair. For starters, Benedict already cited the six million figure earlier that same day at the airport in Tel Aviv, where he denounced anti-Semitism as “totally unacceptable” and said “every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism.” Regarding his German roots, Benedict discussed them during earlier visits to Auschwitz and Cologne, and the historical record is clear that he and his family were firm opponents of the Nazis. As for taking the rap for the Holocaust, Benedict has expressed regret for anti-Semitism among Christians, but he has rightly distinguished Christianity from the “insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism” that gave rise to Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jewish people."
  • Daniel Gordis (senior vice president, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem): "The pope’s mistake was that he assumed the role of diplomat rather than religious leader. There was nothing technically wrong with what he said at Yad Vashem. But in choosing such carefully measured, tepid language, he said nothing that an ordinary diplomat could not have uttered. We heard none of the passion, the fury or the shattered heart that is the hallmark of genuine religious courage and leadership. Atop Mount Scopus, Pope Benedict literally gazed upon the hilltops that Amos walked when he begged that ‘justice flow like a mighty river’ and that Jesus called home when he demanded a renewed moral order. With anguished self-reflective contrition (he is German, after all), or with a courageous call that Palestinians should have a state but must also publicly proclaim that Jews need a home to call their own, too, the pope could have assumed the mantle of the man of God in the tradition of those who have come here before him."
  • John L. Allen Jr. (senior correspondent, The National Catholic Reporter and author of “The Rise of Benedict XVI"): "Whatever the disappointments from the Yad Vashem visit, they’re not indicative of a pope with a lack of respect for Judaism, or one who’s indifferent to either anti-Semitism or the memory of the Holocaust. I also know that prior to his election as pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger bluntly acknowledged Christian complicity in the Holocaust. I know the pope has reflected at length, including in his own autobiography, about his childhood in Nazi Germany, and his shame that his nation produced such a monstrosity. Finally, I know the pope has written a virtually unprecedented letter expressing his anguish over the recent controversy involving the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. It probably would have been helpful to hear some of this at Yad Vashem, and people can be forgiven for seeing the visit as a missed opportunity. In context, however, it seems clear that Benedict meant well."

And elsewhere in the media:

  • Abe Foxman (national director, ADL): "Yet a close examination of Benedict’s text and actions shows that he did deliver an appropriate speech focusing on the concepts of remembrance. He also met briefly with Holocaust survivors. It must be noted also that in recent months, Benedict has made strong statements repudiating Holocaust denial.  And in the past, Benedict has talked about his personal experiences as a member of Hitler Youth and the Germany Army. Therefore, it would do us well to keep things in perspective and recognize what this pope has said and done. By coming to Israel at this time, the 82-year-old pontiff is solidifying the Vatican’s formal relationship with the State of Israel, launched when a historic diplomatic agreement was signed in 1993. His trip demonstrates the Church’s commitment to the security and survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Benedict is also establishing a track record for future popes. No longer will Pope John Paul’s journey be able to be portrayed as an aberration or a personal mission. Indeed, Benedict’s trip will institutionalize that every pope visit Israel and commit the billion-member Roman Catholic Church to the importance of Israel as the Jewish state."
  • Yehuda Bauer (historian): The pope meant well, and tried to walk the tightrope between Arab-Palestinian-Muslim and Palestinian-Christian enmity to Israel and the Jews on the one hand, and the collective trauma of Jews in Israel and elsewhere regarding the Holocaust on the other. He did not quite fall off the rope, but he stumbled. No wonder: John Paul came not only as the pope, but also as Karol Wojtyla, a pro-Jewish Polish survivor of the German occupation in Poland – a truly compassionate personality with close Jewish friends who, in his Western Wall note, asked for forgiveness for his own sins — and he had never sinned against the Jews. If he had, at that point, become a candidate for Israeli prime minister, he would have been elected by an overwhelming majority. Benedict missed his opportunity. As a boy, he had been forced to join the Hitler Jugend, and as a teenager he was forced into the German army, from which he deserted. He bears neither guilt nor responsibility, and he could have used the pronoun "I" without any hesitation. He could have made his point as Josef Ratzinger, a German who opposes Holocaust denial and, despite the Williamson episode, as a friend of the Jews — and he clearly sees himself as one — and as someone who identifies with the demand to deal with the Holocaust. Instead, he used remote theological terminology which few people are trained to understand.

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