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138http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2013/03/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---03_15_2013
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 03_15_2013
03/14/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 15, 2013

 

White smoke. To you and me it means the Sabbath candles have finally burned down. To Catholics around the world it means a new Pope has been elected. Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, the first in hundreds of years, drew Cardinals to Rome, to assemble in the Sistine Chapel and pray, contemplate, and vote for the next Pope. This is unlike anything we’ve ever known in Judaism. So, when a non-Jewish, non-Catholic person asked me recently what this means for the Jewish community, I had to consider my answer.

                On the one hand, it means nothing. We go about our business without any interest or concern about the Vatican’s religious decisions. It’s a spectacle that attracts our attention for its historical and cultural significance.

                On the other hand, it means so much. In history, the Pope’s relationship to the Jewish community around the world has carried much weight. Over centuries, the Pope’s sympathy or wrath towards Jews meant the difference between peace and strife. Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) who served during the Holocaust left a record rife with painful examples of derision towards Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis. For much of the War, he remained silent while German atrocities were committed. His meager attempts to shelter Jews were far outnumbered by horrific examples of indifference and outright scorn for their pleas.

                Pius’s successors, beginning with Pope John XXIII, contemporized aspects of church practice including the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. Nostra Aetate (1965) cleared Jews of responsibility for Jesus’ death, renounced the claim that Jews were rejected by God, condemned anti-Semitism, and called for mutual understanding and respect between Catholics and Jews. But, it was John Paul II (1978-2005), who took part in the historic Second Vatican Council, who would transform these remarkable words into real actions.

                The young man who would become John Paul II, was an eyewitness to the Holocaust. The familiar story is told how a few months before the war ended he rescued a starving 13 year-old Jewish girl at a train station by taking her to his rail car and feeding her. His heart was moved. After his election as Pope in 1978, John Paul II often devoted his energy to improving relations between Catholics and Jews. His visit to a synagogue in Rome was monumental and his frequent visits with Jewish leaders renewed diplomatic relations with Israel. Like others before him, he maintained certain boundaries; but, the achievements he managed between Catholics and Jews renewed hope for peaceful relations in the future.

                Pope Benedict XVI turned a conservative corner and guided the Church to reclaim the Latin mass and other aspects of the past. Some relished the change and others protested. Worse, however, are the sexual and financial scandals that have racked the Church hierarchy. In effect, they forced Benedict XVI to resign and turn over management of these affairs to one who would have more vigor and ability. Thankfully, in his relationship with the Jewish world he didn’t reclaim the past. Rather, he embraced what his predecessors had also concluded about Jesus’ death, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Though he drew ire from Jewish leaders on occasion, he learned from their appeals and demonstrated understanding. In a meeting with Jewish leaders the Pope said the Catholic Church was “profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism.”

                So, what does it mean for the Jewish community that a new Pope is elected in Rome? You can decide for yourself. To me, it means that, God willing, the new Pope will be a man with skill enough to assemble his Church around acts of contrition and repentance for the sake of renewed holiness and respect; and, compassion enough to build on his predecessor’s legacies who laid foundations of understanding and respect with and for the Jewish people.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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