Why don’t the Jews have a pope?
Menu JTA Search

Why don’t the Jews have a pope?

We Jews have a thing about infallibility.

We don’t like it. We don’t trust it. Even Moses wasn’t infallible.

So when the white smoke rose Wednesday night at the Vatican signaling that a new pope had been chosen, there didn’t seem to be much envy among MOTs (at least, not in the twittersphere).

Sure, the pomp and circumstance was nice. It had much more gravitas than a synagogue board meeting, though arguably less drama than the seven weeks we waited to learn the composition of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government.

But this is hardly the golden age of the papacy. The Catholic Church faces a host of challenges, from the sexual abuse scandals to the erosion of Catholic faith and practice worldwide. We live in an age of skepticism and deep distrust of leadership, particularly religious leaders. Maybe Benedict was wise to quit the game early.

"We have to ask if the Chief Rabbinate, in Israel and certain European countries – has that served us well?" noted Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. "Right now the chief rabbis of Israel do not speak for the Jewish people. They do not speak for the Israeli people. They speak for a increasingly narrow slice of even the Orthodox."

Jacobs says it’s a point of pride that we Jews have no pope.

“It’s an indication that we actually don’t believe there’s one person who can and should speak for all of us, and that’s our strength,” Jacobs said. “It’s incredibly important that we acknowledge that that’s not an accident."

David Berger, a professor of Jewish history and dean at Yeshiva University, points out that Catholicism is actually among the minority of religions to have a central religious figure. The Muslims don’t have one, most Christians don’t have one, and the Jews don’t either.

Except, of course, the hasidim, who have their rebbes.