The Pope’s Exoneration of the Jews: A Step Back from Real Interfaith Encounter -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

March 14, 2011

I was deeply offended by the Pope’s recent book quote in which he freed the Jews from responsibility for the killing of Jesus (I know it’s just a restatement of Nostra Aetate but that was before I was born).   Here is why -consider the following scenario to which, to me, it felt akin:

Suppose in 2011 a white president of the United States wrote that African Americans, after his examination of their biology and history, are not less than human than whites, as many in our country once thought.   Why would that offend me?  Firstly, it’s anachronistic and just not relevant to our world today, secondly, it would seems to imply that had the white slave owners been correct slavery would have been justified, and thirdly, the President is not a biologist and so instead of being considered science or history it would smack of a political agenda.  The only thing such a white President could do that would not seem absurd would be to apologize for the past and shed tears for all that might have been and was destroyed though bigotry and hatred.

I believe that if the goal is better interfaith relations, (which almost all Jewish leaders lauded the pope for in light of this statement last week), then this will not get us any farther on that path.  Real interfaith work requires that we each see the other fully as they are, not as we would like to see them.  Only when we put ourselves in the shoes of those whom we have hated and see the world through their eyes can we learn from them.   Tolerance is easy, especially if the other is a bit whitewashed, but tolerance is not deep or interesting.   Really understanding the other through their own eyes is the first step toward being able to understand them and the world as they see it, only then can true learning from each other begin.

When I was a Rabbi at Washington University, all the clergy would meet together each month.   Evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, and I would sit and discuss students and religious life on campus.  One year we decided to spend some time learning from each other about our individual theological worldviews.  Much of the time the conversation was prevented from becoming truly deep, as we walked on eggshells careful not to offend the other since we valued our friendship and collegiality.   At a certain point though I realized that we would never really respect each other, understand each other, and learn from each other, if we were not willing to truly encounter the other fully.

At the next meeting, I said the following to the most fundamentalist Christian pastor among us, a young man I really did like and respect as a person and colleague:  “Scott, unless we can really express who we are with each other, until you can tell me you think I am going to hell and until I can tell you I think you worship a Jewish heretic, we will never be able to truly break though the armor that protects us from seeing the world through each other’s eyes, and never really learn from each other’s theology.”

It was eye opening.   Only then were we able to really lay out what we believed, only then were we able to really present how we see the world and why it is so important to us.  Why we would be willing to die for it.  Only then did we really learn from each other’s vision of the world, religion and God.

If the pope were looking through Jewish eyes he would realize it does not matter to Jews who killed Jesus, and to even talk about it in light of the rivers of Jewish blood that have been spilt over two millennia in its name, is absurd and profoundly offensive.  May it be that we all learn to look through each other’s eyes, to garner from each other’s world views and understandings of the Divine, to come closer spiritually to the Infinite One and to each other.

Making the Law of Return Work for All Jews, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

November 9, 2009

On Friday an Op Ed appeared in the Jerusalem post, written jointly by Rabbi Seth Farber – Orthodox – and Rabbi Ed Rettig – Reform – where together they excoriated the Israeli government and its bureaucratic arms for preventing Jewish converts from becoming Jewish citizens under the Law of Return.  Rather than recognizing all Jewish converts as Jews, as the Israeli Supreme court ordered over a decade ago, the relevant ministries are requiring converts to jump through multi-year hoops in order to gain acceptance.  I would add to it, that I was involved in an Orthodox  conversion that was flat-out rejected since the Interior ministry did not recognize the Beit Din of Evanston as a legitimate Beit Din.

Rather than getting angry at the government of Israel or the ministries or the individual bureaucrats involved, I suggest there is a systemic problem that has a simple solution.  The problem is once again: “Who is a Jew?”  True, Israel  years ago veered away from defining that halachically, but still – is anyone who is converted by anyone, or anyone who just claims they are Jewish with no evidence to be admitted under the Law of Return?  If not – and  on the surface it seems we need some control – then who determines the criteria? The Rabbanut doesn’t, but now secular ministries do, and that is worse!

I say the only way for the Law of Return to work the way it is supposed to – to protect every “Jew” in the world from potential persecution and to allow any “Jew” in the world to return to the Land of the Jews is if yes, Israel accepts anyone who converts to Judaism in any way, and anyone who declares that they are Jewish. Wouldn’t the Nazis kill anyone who claimed to be Jewish?  Wouldn’t the crusades kill anyone who claimed they were Jewish?  Would the Muslim mobs in Morocco or Yemen kill any Muslim who declared they had become Jewish no matter who converted them or how?  Of course.  So the Law of Return should apply to anyone who claims they are Jewish and who is willing to have “Yehudi” stamped on there Te’udat Zehut – their Israeli identity card.  Yes, we may get millions from around the world, from Africa and Asia and South America declaring they are Jewish – Oy gevalt!  More self identifying Jews in Israel!!  That is exactly what we want.

Yes, if you are racist, or bigoted or xenophobic you will be afraid of these “Jews” coming to Israel.  But that is what Ben Hecht claimed some of the early Jews living in Israel felt about the masses from Europe – were they the right kinds of Jews to bring to the Holy Land?  That is was some of the Gedolim told Rav Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg when he wanted to save the Hildesheimer Yeshiva in Germany from Nazi destruction by bringing it to Palestine – they felt it was the wrong type of Yeshiva and Torah for the Holy Land of Israel.  So they perished at the hand of the Germans.

Just as the system works today, the Jewish and religious community in Israel will have to sort out “Who is a Jew?” from a Halachic point of view.  Following the Mishna B’rurah’s p’sak for minyan and leading services, anyone who shows up in shul will be counted (males, that is, for the Orthodox) and can daven, because of the law of the majority.  When it comes to weddings, anyone who wants to get married will have to convert – if they haven’t already – based on the standard of that community: chareidim, Modern Orthodox, s’faradim, etc.  No hard feelings. If I can verify to the community I want to live in and marry in that I am Jewish, fine.  Otherwise, that community should welcome me if I meet their standards of conversion.  But no one in the world who self identifies as a Jew should be denied admission to Israel as an Israeli citizen.

We need the Law of Return to work to save Jews and bring them home to Israel.  Let us welcome all Jews – anyone who says they are Jewish should be welcome in the Jewish state.  And maybe if those masses of self-identifying Jews come back to the Homeland, in all their shapes and colors, then maybe those Jews from America and Europe, who have the proof that they are Jewish, will return as well.  Then Israel will  be the safe-heaven for Jews which the founding fathers of Israel, such as Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky  envisioned.