Bad Friday: The Pope Still Wants to Convert Jews
By Roi Ben-Yehuda
A few years ago he pissed off Muslims around the world when he suggested that Islam was a religion of the sword. Today, Pope Benedict XVI has enraged the rest of the monotheistic family.
In a move that must have given both Mel Gibson and Ann Coulter hard-ons, the Pope has re-sanctioned an ancient Good Friday prayer which calls on God to illuminate the hearts of the Jews that they might recognize their savior Jesus Christ. To his credit, the Pope did choose to remove passages from the ancient Latin rite which referred to Jewish “blindness” and the need to “remove the veil from their hearts.”
To the surprise of nobody, Jewish groups have got their knickers in a twist. The Italian Rabbinical Assembly has suspended its decades-long dialogue with the Church. And the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement which read:
“While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed … we are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact.”
Walter Kasper, the Cardinal in charge of the Catholic Church’s relations with Jews, has vigorously defended the Pope’s decision. Kasper (who happens to be German) is perplexed by Jewish touchiness:
“I must say that I don’t understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our prayers. We think that reasonably this prayer cannot be an obstacle to dialogue because it reflects the faith of the Church and, furthermore, Jews have prayers in their liturgical texts that we Catholics don’t like.”
To those of us less naive about Jewish sensitivities, it’s obvious that reintroducing this prayer into the liturgy will reopen old wounds – Harkening us back to a time when Christians looked at Jews the way Tom Cruise looks at a car accident.
But what is pluralism if not accepting the other, even if, nay, especially if he offends you? The simple reality is that all three monotheistic faiths make exclusive and therefore offensive claims to truth. If we want to live in a multi-cultural world, Jews and others must learn not to freak out when other religions give witness to their faith.
Moreover, Kasper is right when points out that we Jews are not without our own distasteful liturgical passages. Take for example, Aleinu, the closing prayer of the morning, afternoon, and evening service. An oldie but goody, the prayer looks forward to the day when all the nations of the world—those that “bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god which helps not”—will abandon their religions and join the chosen Israel in worshiping the one true God.
I don’t know about you, but if I was a non-Jew and I heard this, I would feel pretty miffed. All the more so if I learned that the Hebrew words for vanity and emptiness “la-hevel va-rik” have the numerical value of the Hebrew names for Jesus and Muhammad. (To Jewcy’s non-Jewish readers: don’t think too badly of Judaism: look, here’s an article about tikkun olam!).
Of course, Judaism, like Catholicism and all other religious confessions, is about much more than just restrictive and offensive truth claims. And since each religious community hopes the others will focus on the more noble passages from our sacred books, I say that the Pope should open up his Quran—you know, that book that preaches violence and exclusion—and knead his rosary beads to sura 49:13 which states:
“O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may know one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous.” Amen.
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