Oh, how I like this Pope.
I like Pope Francis because of his open-minded attitude towards the Church and the world.
I also like him because of the deep relationships that he has had with Jews and Judaism.
As Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the Pope was very close to the Argentinian Jewish community. He collaborated with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in the creation of On Heaven and Earth.
That leads us to last week’s historic Vatican proclamation, specifying that Catholics should not undertake organized efforts to convert Jews.
In many ways, this is the most appropriate follow up to Nostra Aetate, which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary — which, among other things, contained the Roman Catholic Church’s historic declaration that the Jewish people would not be held responsible for the execution of Jesus.
The Pope’s declaration follows in a long, redemptive line of statements, coming from both Judaism and Christianity, that have sought to bridge the theological gulf and to come to a greater sense of shalom between the faiths. In particular, I have in mind Dabru Emet (“Speak Truth”), now fifteen years old, in which Jewish scholars outlined the areas of possible agreement and harmony between Judaism and Christianity. I am proud to have been one of the signers of that historical statement.
Most recently, there was the Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity. This statement goes further than any previous statement in acknowledging Christianity’s spiritual gifts, freely calling upon great Jewish sages and theologians for support in this holy endeavor.
But, back to the Pope. Here is what he was saying: the centuries of Christian animus against the Jews; the adversus Judaeus (anti-Judaism) tradition of Christianity; the time when Christians viewed their faith as superior and Judaism as a fallen, widowed, broken woman; the age of the Crusades, Inquisitions, and church-sponsored blood libels (anti-Israel blood libels are something else altogether) — those days are over. Literally, they are history.
And, when you consider the growing violence against Jews in Europe — a violence that accompanies the decreasing influence of Christianity on that continent, realize that the Pope was essentially saying: At a time when anti-Semites are coming after Jews, the Church will defend Judaism.
You would think that everyone would be happy about the Pope’s statement that Catholics would no longer seek Jewish converts.
Consider the reaction of Jews for Jesus.
David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, said that his organization finds the Pope’s position to be “egregious, especially coming from an institution which seeks to represent a significant number of Christians in the world.”
“How can the Vatican ignore the fact that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ mandates that his followers are to bring the gospel to all people? he asked. “Are they merely pandering to some leaders in the Jewish community who applaud being off the radar for evangelization by Catholics? If so, they need to be reminded that they first received that gospel message from the lips of Jews who were for Jesus.”
The great Jewish theologian and activist, Abraham Joshua Heschel, once recalled a conversation with the Jesuit theologian, Gustave Weigel.
I posed the question: Is it really the will of God that there be no more Judaism in the world? Would it really be the triumph of God if the scrolls of the Torah would no more be read in the synagogue, our ancient Hebrew prayers in which Jesus himself worshipped no more recited, the Passover Seder no more celebrated in our lives, the Law of Moses no more observed in our homes? Would it really be to the greater glory of God to have a world without Jews?
Weigel shook his head: No, it would not be to the glory of God for there to be a world without Jews.
That was to be Heschel’s last conversation with Weigel. The Jesuit teacher died the next day.
Jews for Jesus might believe that Jews can maintain their Jewish ethnicity and “simply” adopt Christianity as their religion. Or, more likely, they believe that Jews can believe that. They have said that they can be ethnically Jewish and religiously Christian.
Let us, at long last, strip away the masks of the proselytizers. Jews for Jesus (and Messianic Jews) have only one goal. They want Jews to become Christians. Therefore, they desire the destruction of Judaism as a religion.
You are free to hope and pray that everyone will someday recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
But my strong preference — indeed, Judaism’s strongest preference and heart-felt demand — is that you see that the Jewish people still has a valid and powerful covenant with God. Jews do not need Jesus to experience intimacy with God; they already have that intimacy, going back to Sinai.
If you cannot see that, and if you persist in trying to convert Jews to Christianity, then you want Judaism to disappear.
And that, my “friends,” is called anti-Semitism.
Thank God (really) that the world has this Pope, who so clearly believes that Judaism is part of the divine economy of the world — that the world needs both Judaism and the Jews.