Papal Myopia?

This past week, the Chief Rabbinate decided to cut off diplomatic relations with the Vatican over the recent decision of Pope Benedict XVI to welcome back to the Church the long discredited Bishop Richard Williamson of Britain, and three other breakaway bishops who were excommunicated by John Paul II in 1988. The bishops had been ordained without Vatican permission by the renegade French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The Vatican decree referred to the need to overcome the “scandal of divisiveness” and seek reconciliation and “full communion” with Lefebvre’s order, the ultra-conservative Society or Fraternity of St Pius X.

Bishop Williamson, who has said that the Vatican is controlled by Satan and that the Jews are bent on world domination, reiterated in a broadcast last week on Swedish television that the historical evidence was “hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers.”

Jewish leaders in Italy like Renzo Gattegna, the head of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, said the rehabilitation of Bishop Williamson was “terrible not only for Jewish people but for the whole of humanity”. He said that Italian Jews would refuse to take part in joint prayers with Christians on Tuesday marking Holocaust Day, known in Italy as “The Day of Memory.”

Bishop Williamson is well known for denying that millions of Jews died in Nazi gas chambers; in addition, he has also endorsed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery used since the late 19th century to fuel anti-Jewish violence—a perennial best-seller in the Arab world.

This is all the more amazing especially when considering how incidents of anti-Semitic violence in Europe reached post-Holocaust record highs over the past month. Jewish children have been violently attacked in France, barred from schools in Denmark, and harassed in England, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland and Germany just for being Jews.

As one of the most important moral leaders of our age, the Pope’s decision to welcome such a dubious figure is sad as it is perplexing. While I do not think the Pope purposely intended to discard over sixty years of positive Catholic and Jewish interfaith relations, the Pope’s decision unfortunately apparently relied upon researchers within the Vatican that should have known better. Let us see how the events unfold.

Postscript: February 11, 2009

All is well that ends well. Pope Benedict XVI, met with Jewish leaders in an effort to mend fences after lifting the excommunication of a schismatic bishop who has publicly denied the scale of the Holocaust, said Thursday that the Roman Catholic Church was “profoundly and irrevocably committed to rejecting anti-Semitism.” He also condemned Holocaust denial as “intolerable and altogether unacceptable,” and said it should “be clear to everyone,” especially to clergy members, that the Holocaust was “a crime against God and humanity.”

This is a very important statement that reflects the greatness of the Vatican; lesser men would not have gone the extra distance to make shalom. Let us pray that Pope Benedict XVI has a safe and successful trip to the Holy Land in May.

Creating True Pluralistic Religious Dialogue

Creating True Pluralistic Religious Dialogue

by Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel: January 8th, 2009

When I was growing up, most of us believed that as we entered the 21st century, we would live to see a more enlightened world—a world in which the forces of reason would eventually triumph over ignorance and technological advances would transform a world of scarcity into a world of abundance. Most of us thought that the religious wars were a disease of the past. If anything, we grew up believing the world was more threatened by the forces of Communism and its struggle against the free and capitalistic West.

How wrong-headed many of us were! Peace seems more elusive now than ever. Once again, ideological wars have morphed into something few of us ever anticipated seeing— the resurgence of religious wars. Here we stand, once again, with hundreds of religions and philosophies still engaged in the centuries-old contest to win over the hearts and minds of the human species! Some religions seek to destroy all others; others are interested in benignly incorporating the surrounding nonbelievers under their particular banner of faith—much like a large fish swallows a smaller fish.

Every Eastern and Western religion must broaden its tolerance of religious and philosophical diversity. The idea that there is a supremacy of one ethnicity over another, or the ascendancy of one religion at the expense of another, creates an ambiance of intolerance where the cacophonous sounds of preachers drown out the words of their fellow preachers. Irrespective of whether one thinks of religion as humankind’s greatest quest for self-discovery or, conversely, sees religion as a form of self-propagating spiritual virus, none of us can avoid being affected by the God Wars. The horror of the September 11, 2001 attacks, caused a sudden and jolting realization: that the same religious conflicts that have brought death and destruction in the Middle East are now an inescapable and permanent part of our psychological and societal landscape.

I wonder: are the world’s inhabitants singly unable to achieve peace? Are we condemned to repeat the errors and mistakes of the past? It seems to me that peace requires more than nuclear, military or economic disarmament. Peace can ultimately be obtained only when accompanied by cultural disarmament. To achieve cultural disarmament, religious leaders everywhere must urge their followers to abandon a belief in religious absolutism and forge a true reconciliation and peace through ongoing inter-cultural dialogues.

I believe with all my heart that there are many paths that lead to the Divine, while there are other paths that clearly do not. Yet despite the doctrinal differences affecting the world’s great religions, each and every faith
does teach a philosophy of perennial wisdom that provides every follower with the wisdom and the tools to cross the great cultural and religious divide.

One of my favorite theologians, Raimundo Pannikar, stresses the importance of intra-faith dialogue. Pannikar argues that for one faith to become tolerant of the other, it is imperative for each person to see faith through the eyes of his neighbor. Too often we get bogged down in judging the other person’s faith before we really understand what the other person’s faith personally means to him or her. If we are ever going to end the God Wars, it is vital we adopt a new approach that is embracing and unifying, rather than intolerant and divisive.

Such an approach would encourage people to let go of old prejudices and the old worn out arguments which create a polemical and adversarial atmosphere. Seeing through the eyes of our neighbor does not mean we must accept the other’s view or belief system as our own—but it will give us insight into where our coreligionist is coming from. Differences must come to be expected and accepted within a “both-and” mindset, rather than a “right-wrong” mindset.

Whether our religious beliefs are vastly different, or we simply practice a different level of observance of the same religion, an open-minded approach which allows for these differences and steers clear of condemnation or falling into the right-wrong trap will certainly benefit all of us as we find that our values are not so different after all.

As spiritual leaders, we must crease a series of forums involving clergy and lay leaders from the various faiths in our community. Hopefully, these forums will both tear down some of the walls which keep us stuck in a mindset of intolerance and will also allow us to identify, appreciate and expand the ground we hold in common with one another. Not only will these programs be helpful in understanding a variety of perspectives, but ideally our Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic neighbors will walk away with a greater appreciation for what each faith has to say about the issues of the day in a communal effort to let religion become the healing force God intended it to be.

Fighting the Just War: The War Against Hamas

Fighting the Just War: Special Column for the Quad-Cities Times Paper

byline Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Imagine how Americans would feel if terrorists from the town of Tijuana shot 8000 missiles a year into San Diego; or imagine if Ukrainian terrorists attacked Russian cities with a barrage of 20-40 missiles a day. How would Putin react? How would any self-respecting country react? Every government has the duty and responsibility to protect its citizens. Wars of self-defense are fought for this express purpose. So, I wonder: Why should Israel be the exception to this common sense rule? Why does the international community look the other way when it comes to critically evaluating the jihadists of Hamas?

In many ways, the clash between Israel and the jihadists of Gaza is a conflict of values and civilization itself. The people of Gaza have been duped in following leaders who place greater value on death (as evidenced by the suicide bombers) than they do for life. If you ever read the Hamas charter, you would see that it makes Hitler’s Mein Kampf look moderate. Gaza’s misery is completely self-induced.

Despite the billions of dollars sent by nations all around the world to Gaza to recreate the Gaza strip into a paradise and a thriving economy based on the principle of mutual co-existence with her neighbors, Hamas has utilized every dollar to create an infrastructure of terror and mayhem. Its hatred of Israel can only be described as irrational. Palestinians tearing down the left-behind greenhouses and public buildings which could have served respectively as a lifeline to economic well-being and social improvement; Fatah and Hamas engage in internecine battles that claims 1,000 Palestinian lives; the arrests, kidnappings and assassinations by Hamas of anyone who opposes its mini-reign of terror in Gaza.

Ask yourself: What kind of religious people defile their faith by using a Mosque not as a prayer hall, but as a hall in which to stockpile and hide munitions and from which to shoot rockets into Israel? Where is the moral outrage of civilized nations who know better, but remain silent?

The head of Egyptian Intelligence, Omar Suleiman, exclaims, “Mashaal (the head of Hamas) and his thugs will pay for foiling the internal Palestinian dialogue that was supposed to take place in Cairo.” He further adds that “Hamas’ leadership is guilty of great arrogance. It snubs Egypt. It leaders must be reined in and must wake up from their dream.”