Was Pope Pius XII’s reputation smeared by the KGB?

The government of Israel may want to consider rethinking its attitude about Pope Pius XII; this is an important matter especially since the Vatican wishes to canonize Pope Pius XII. Until now, there has been a lingering controversy about Pope Pius’s alleged support for the Nazis; Israeli scholars need to revisit and examine this matter with their Catholic counterparts.

Most of Pius’s critics have traditionally been associated with critics from the political and religious Left. In one recent study, a new revelation was introduced in January 2007 by Lt.-Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former head of the Romanian KGB. Pacepa writes that the allegations against Pius XII were really the brainchild of the KGB. In an article published in National Review, Pacepa recalls, “In my other life, when I was at the center of Moscow’s foreign-intelligence wars, I myself was caught up in a deliberate Kremlin effort to smear the Vatican, by portraying Pope Pius XII as a coldhearted Nazi sympathizer.”[1]

Pacepa’s background is impeccable. After he defected to the US in 1978, he became the highest ranking Soviet-bloc defector, claimed that in the late 1950s the KGB began perceiving the Catholic Church as the primary threat to its control over Eastern Bloc countries. Consequently, in 1960 the KGB decided to wage a campaign to destroy its moral authority. Since Pius had died two years earlier, the decision was made to castigate him as a Nazi collaborator. Already dead, he was in no position to defend himself before his accusers. To perpetrate the fiction that the Pope was a stooge of Hitler, Pacepa alleged that the 1964 play The Deputy, which opened the floodgates of criticism against Pius, was written by the KGB and that its presumed author, Rolf Hochhuth, was a communist fellow traveler. He claimed that the basis for the play was documents that Romanian KGB agents disguised as Catholic priests had purloined from the Vatican archives. Those documents, he alleged, were then doctored at KGB headquarters in Moscow.

Former CIA director James Woolsey has vouched for Pacepa’s personal credibility. Pacepa’s memoir Red Horizons formed the basis for the indictment and conviction of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed in 1989. Vindicating the memory of a man who saved 850,000 Jews would go a long way to ensuring that the Vatican and Jerusalem remain the best of allies because of the mutual historical bond both faith communities forged together during the darkest period of Jewish history.

[1] “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican”, National Review Online, January 25, 2007.

The law of the “goring ox” and Kim Jong Il

There is an intriguing law from the Torah concerning the law of the “goring ox” found in the Torah:

If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death (Exodus 21:29).

Talmudic tradition teaches that if the owner has been warned on three separate occasions that his bull has gored, the bull is considered a danger to society, and the owner must take special caution to protect the public from his animal. Should the bull continue to wreck havoc, the owner must pay for full restitution and the bull must be destroyed. This dictum does not apply if someone goaded a bull to gore, as in the case of a bull-fight. The bull’s viciousness must emanate from within the animal’s nature, and must not be induced from the outside.[1]

When we look at North Korea’s behavior, here is a country that fits the model of the “goring ox” mentioned in the Torah. North Korea’s behavior should not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with Kim Jong Il’s behavior.

When we assemble the pieces of the puzzle, North Korea’s blast and its recent April 5th rocket launch of a satellite into space have obvious implications for its long-range missile technology. As to be expected, the Security Council condemned the launch as a violation of U.N. resolutions.

What is Kim Jong Il looking to achieve? Some think the blast is a show of virility, namely, he is still a force to reckon with even though his health has deteriorated. Others think that Kim Jong Il wants to wrest more concessions from the West. However, there is another scenario that ought to be seriously considered: What if this recent test was part of a collaborative effort with the Iranians? North Korea is always hurting for money and Iran has the means to give the country what it wants in exchange for missile and nuclear technology. Put in simple terms, the Iranians may well have tested their very first nuclear bomb. By renting space in North Korea, the Iranians are letting North Korea be the “fall guy,” a role that North Korea has no qualms about playing–especially since its serves their purposes. Continue reading “The law of the “goring ox” and Kim Jong Il”

Why did Michal despise David in her heart?

Q. I need some help.  II Samuel 6:16 says Michal “despised him in her heart” (NKJV)/”was disgusted with him” (TEV).  My wife has asked me why Michal’s attitude changed towards David.  What happened?  My research has not given me an adequate explanation. So, I come to my resident rabbi for help.

A. Dear Reverend Don,

As per our earlier conversation on this subject, David never particularly cared for the royal pomp that went with being king. In his heart of hearts, David was and remained a shepherd throughout most of his life. Now the term b’zâ is rendered as “despised,” but the basic meaning of its root connotes, “to accord little worth to something.” While this action may or may not include overt feelings of contempt or scorn, the biblical usage indicates that the very act of undervaluing something or someone implies contempt. Thus both translations seem correct.

Michal’s father may not have been as spontaneous as David, but he always conducted himself with royal courtesy–and it was this quality that Michal missed so dearly after her father was killed. After Saul gave her to Paltiel, David insisted that she be returned to him; this passage might suggest.

Yes, political marriages reflect a certain cynicism on the part of David, who probably never felt that seriously attracted to Michal, but married her in order to improve his reputation and status among the royal families and local dignitaries. In her eyes, Saul was the true king; he was a man who behaved as a king should, but David–he was a commoner who behaved like a commoner even when he was king; Saul would never have acted so disrespectfully in front of the Ark of the Covenant, but David had no sense of propriety whatsoever. What chutzpa! David went too far this time! (Rashi).

Michal never bore an heir for David, which could suggest that she really stayed aloof from him, or that he avoided her because their relationship was tortured and loveless. Like Bill Clinton, King David had some real difficulties with self-control. I suspect this was the primary reason why Michal disrespected her husband.


20 May

Through the Eye of the Beholder ….

“Anti-Semitism is a horrible disease from which nobody is immune, and it has a kind of evil fascination that makes an enlightened person draw near the source of infection, supposedly in a scientific spirit, but really to sniff the vapors and dally with the possibility.”

Mary McCarthy quotes (American novelist and critic,1912-1989)

The world often reflects what we want to see. This is precisely the illusion that feeds anti-Semitism.  Strange as it may sound, the same people who criticize someone because he is Jewish, more often than not ignore the good that many Jews do—because they are Jews! What is wrong with this picture?

Despite the thousands of stories and analysis lavished by editorials about the awful way Israel treats the poor Palestinians, one almost never reads stories about how Israel goes out of its way to provide electricity and other important human services to a people who have sworn to commit genocide against their benefactors. I doubt very seriously that the British would have acted so kindly toward the Germans in WWI or WWII.

Would one ever expect to find in the Palestinian territories a hospital that would treat Jewish or Israeli patients with as much care as they treat their own? The very question invites ridicule and scorn—if you happen to be a Palestinian living in Gaza or the West Bank. Yet, Hadassah Hospital of Jerusalem routinely provides care for the injured among the Palestinians, who curse the Jews even as they recover from their life-saving operations. Aside from promoting a religion extolling victimhood, what other kind of gifts have the Palestinians contributed toward the betterment of the world? Sad but true, if the Palestinian community would love life more than they love death, the Messiah would have been here a long time ago.

But why digress?

After Paul Newman died, throngs of people spoke about his greatness and generosity of spirit, but the pundits conveniently forgot to mention Paul Newman considered himself Jewish.

Then again, if you look at the Nobel Prize winners, you will discover an amazing array of Jews, whose brilliance made the world a better and healthier place for all humankind. Of course the media never bothers to mention the number of Jews who have won this prize; they would rather focus on the droll characters of our people. The list is impressive:


World Peace

Chemistry Continue reading “Through the Eye of the Beholder ….”

YU Chancellor: Reform and Conservative Judaism Dead — Con-versing with YU Chancellor Rabbi Lamm

In a recent interview, Yeshiva University Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm expressed some pessimistic thoughts about the future of Reform and Conservative Judaism. According to the article, “With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements,” said Lamm, head of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “The Conservatives are in a mood of despondency and pessimism. They are closing schools and in general shrinking ….” He added further:

“The Reform Movement may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK,” added Lamm, referring to the Reform Movement’s policy, starting in 1983, of recognizing patrilineal descent.

The National Jewish Population Survey of 2001 found that of the 46 percent of US Jewish households belonging to a synagogue, 33% were affiliated with a Conservative synagogue, a 10% fall from the 1990 survey. In contrast, the Reform Movement was up from 35% to 38% and Orthodox Jews rose from 16% to 22%. Two percent were affiliated with the Reconstructionist Movement and 5% with “other types” of synagogues.

This writer does not take such a dim view of Conservative or Reform Judaism’s future. I believe there are many reasons for this: since their inception, both these movements have always attracted Jews who were raised Orthodox; even if Orthodox Judaism will eventually become the dominant denomination of Jews living in the United States, there will always be a considerable number of young people who will revolt against their parents’ orthodox lifestyle. Young people do what they do best—they reinvent their identities.

While the Conservative movement struggles with certain issues, it continues to show a resiliency that will not weaken. Lamm’s remarks remind of something Mark Twain once said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” If I were Rabbi Lamm, I would be more concerned about the Haredization of Modern Orthodoxy, which is moving closer and closer to the ultra-right of the Orthodox spectrum.

Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm dismisses the growing presence of Ortho-feminism, remarking:

Change has to come to religion when feasible, but it should not be rushed. Women have just come into their own from an educational perspective. I would prefer not to have this innovation right now. It is simply too early. What will happen later… I am not a prophet.”

I must differ; already there are more and more scholarly Orthodox women who are fighting for semicha in Israel and in the United States. Already in Israel, woman attorneys are arguing cases with the traditional structure of the Beit Din (a Jewish operated court). If Modern Orthodoxy denies them this historical opportunity to function as rabbis, these learned women will fight until the change occurs. More and more progressive Orthodox yeshivot are encouraging women to study Talmud—despite the reticence of the Haredi halachic authorities.

Another one of the most glaring social issues confronting the Modern Orthodox community is the problem of freeing of women who are being held hostage by estranged husbands, who refuse to grant them a religious divorce. As the old American folk saying goes, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Should Orthodoxy fail to keep its women happy, they will end up as the next generation of Conservative Jews.

Progressive Modern Orthodox rabbis, who follow a more liberal Orthodox philosophy represented by such famous rabbis like Ben Tsion Uziel, or David Tzvi Hoffman, and Shlomo Goren, may eventually move away from Modern Orthodoxy—especially if it continues taking orders from the Haredi rabbis of Israel and the United States. I would further add that the more the Haredi  rabbis control  the autonomy of Modern Orthodox rabbis with respect to conversions, the more likely that many of these candidates will end up as Conservative or even Reform Jews–and you can take that to the bank!

If anything, Conservative Judaism is already inching more closely toward a more Orthodox-style; the Reform Siddur has raised all sorts of cackles within the movement that they are becoming increasingly more religiously traditional than they were before. Yes, change is necessary as it is inevitable; the lines separating Jewish denominations may not be as fixed as Rabbi Lamm envisions it.

The issue of accepting gay Jews is likewise going to eventually prove problematical for Orthodox gays, who incidentally have a visible presence in the Yeshiva University campus! Once again, should Modern Orthodoxy prove to be too Haredi in its attitude toward the frum homosexuals, guess where they will eventually end up?

Rabbi Lamm stresses that change should not be “rushed.” Perhaps in an ideal world, but the snail-like movement of the Modern Orthodox and Haredi world in dealing with this pressing issue and others, promises to keep Conservative Judaism vibrant for quite some time.

Now, if someone did not know Rabbi Lamm very well, s/he might think that Rabbi Lamm is expressing—in Freudian terms—“wish fulfillment,” i.e., a subtle desire to actually see non-Orthodox Judaism weaken and die. This is not the case!  This man has been a powerful voice for religious pluralism within the Modern Orthodox community for many decades; he has often taken heat for taking what the Haredi religious community considers “a heretical stance on Halachic issues.” For example:

The liberal movements should be appreciated and encouraged because they are doing something Jewish, even if it is not the way that Orthodox Jews would like them to, he said. “What they are doing is something, and something is better than nothing,” he said in his speech. “I’m very openly attacking the notion that we sometimes find in the Orthodox community that `being a goy is better'” than being a non-Orthodox Jew, he said in an interview (Debra Nussbaum-Cohen, 1997).

As usual, Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm remains a most provocative and challenging religious thinker. I have loved reading and re-reading his brilliant theological works since the seventies and his stimulating ideas have helped shaped my mind in many countless ways. Despite whatever differences we have, Rabbi Lamm’s legacy  will be long remembered as one of the most dynamic and important voices of Modern Orthodoxy in the 20th-21st centuries.

Better Dead than Alive? A Tale from the Haredi Zone

The ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel never cease to take the Jewish imagination to places   where no rabbi has ever gone before. A case in point: One Israeli Haredi rabbi, Dovid Kornreich, thinks that homosexuals are better off dead than alive. In one of his popular blogs (his blogspot is called “A Voice from the Wilderness”), the rabbi offers a third possibility for Orthodox Jews who are struggling with their homosexuality—how about trying suicide?

To make his idea more appealing, Kornreich says that such behavior would be permitted provided that person commits suicide “al kiddush HaShem” as a means of sanctifying God’s Holy Name

Sounds pretty weird, no?

Well, the 18th century American philosopher Jonathan Edwards once wrote, “Even the Devil can cite Scripture for his purposes …” Actually, the Devil can even cite Talmud, Maimonides, and Jewish law as well!

Rabbi Kornreich doesn’t seem to realize the every human life is precious and of inestimable value. God created every person to be a unique expression that serves to glorify His Presence in the world. In Judaism, our Sages teach us that the true sanctification of God’s Name does not come with death, but with life. Suicide—even for religious purposes—only applies when the person is confronted by a disease or circumstance that threatens to debilitate the human spirit through a life of intense suffering.

In the case of Samson’s suicide (Judges 16: 30), Samson preferred to destroy himself in order to sanctify his God before the pagan Philistines. Given the choices Samson had, he did not wish to be tortured any further by the enemies of his people.

Thus, when King Saul saw the Philistines approach him, he asked his armor-bearer to kill him, so that he would not be tortured by the enemy in their pagan shrines. However, his armor-bearer refused. In the end, the narrator relates: “So he took his sword and fell on it” (1 Sam. 31:4).

According to the Talmud, After the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Roman soldiers gathered four hundred youths  in Israel and sent to Rome on ships. The children realized  that they would become victims of immorality and abuse at the hands of their Roman captors. They decided it would be better to take their own lives than be  sexually degraded by their new masters.  And so it was, they jumped into the sea and died (T.B. Gittin 53b). Continue reading “Better Dead than Alive? A Tale from the Haredi Zone”

How is this Pope different from all other Popes?

 How is this Pope different from all other Popes? For one thing, Pope Benedict XVI has been an outspoken critic for the plight of Christian minorities suffering in Islamic countries. Most recently, in his visit to the Jordanian capital of Amman, Pope Benedict made it a special point to speak out about the shabby way Iraqi Christians have been treated by their host country. Fearlessly, Pope Benedict is continuing his ideological battle against religious extremism that he in his 2006 speech at Regensberg where he quoted a Byzantine emperor from the Middle Ages criticizing Islam for seeking to spread its message by the sword. Although the Pope apologized to the Muslim community, he delicately made an apology only for the hurt his statement caused, but not for the substance of his remarks.[1]

During his visit at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman on Saturday, once more Pope Benedict alluded to the 2006 speech. When he said, “It is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society,” Benedict was reinforcing—if cryptically—his basic criticism of radical Islamic extremism.
Obviously Pope Benedict realizes that Israel is the only country that can ensure that the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem remain protected under her care. The relationship between Jews and Christians is, according to the Pope, spiritually profound and intimate. In one of his speeches Pope Benedict spoke about “the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people …. From the beginning, the Church in these lands has commemorated in her liturgy the great figures of the patriarchs and prophets, as a sign of her profound appreciation of the unity of the two Testaments. May our encounter today inspire in us a renewed love for the canon of sacred Scripture and a desire to overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation in the service of that peace to which the word of God calls us!”
 A Jewish interest in protecting the holy sites of Jerusalem is not merely a matter of Jewish concern; it is also of Christian interests. In saying this, the pope made clear that he views the preservation of Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem as essential for Christian heritage. For the record, the Islamic Wakf (religious leadership of Jerusalem) which desires to be the sole custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites in the event of its partition, has already gone to great lengths to systematically destroy the ruins of the Temple Mount and the Jewish and Christian heritage of the holy basin through archeological theft, illegal building and digging.
The Pope is very cognizant of the anti-Christian sentiment that the Palestinian community has expressed over the passed sixty years. During the week of the pontiff’s arrival, Palestinian Authority Muslims went on a rampage Sunday and desecrated 70 Christian graves two weeks after the pope praised efforts for a new PA state and tried to appease Muslim anger over previous disputes between the two religions. The vandals smashed gravestones and knocked metal and stone crosses off graves in the village of Jiffna, near Ramallah, home to approximately 900 Christians and 700 Muslims. Greek Orthodox Church official George Abdo told Reuters the head and hand of a statue of Madonna also was severed.
If I were a Christian, I certainly would not want a bunch of Muslim gangsters and thugs controlling my faith’s holy sites in Israel. Frankly speaking, their track-record is pretty pathetic. 



[1] Pope Benedict XVI, during a speech in Germany, at a university where he used to teach, quoted a 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor: “He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’ . . . Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. ‘God,’ the emperor says, ‘is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.'” And, the pontiff even condemned violent jihad, or “holy war.”







A Modern Story about Pygmalion and the Haredi Rabbi

Yesterday, an interesting story hit the newspapers in Israel  Rabbi Rafael Cohen, chief of the northern city’s kosher division in the city of Tiberias, called for a boycott of all stores that display mannequins in bathing suits, claiming that to merely look at these figures, “damages the souls of the passerby.”

He even threatened to publish a list of stores that continue such displays, saying that “The residents of Tiberias should not set foot in stores of that kind, and that will cause them irreversible damage …. ‘Modest’ mannequins, he said, are acceptable but added, “But there are mannequins that are really revolting, mannequins in bathing suits that damage our souls.”

Are “kosher” mannequins next?

The above story makes one wonder: From where did Rabbi Cohen derive his prohibition? In my discussions with members of the Haredi community, they point out that “lusting” after immoral images is expressly forbidden in the Torah, “When you use these tassels, let the sight of them remind you to keep all the commandments of the LORD, without going wantonly astray after the desires of your hearts and eyes” (Num. 15:39).

However, Jewish law does distinguish between “merely looking” (ri’iyah) and what may be termed “fixation” (derech histaklut), and it would seem that the Haredi rabbi has conflated these two categories together.

To use an illustration: A porno video is made for histaklut, not r’iyiah and anybody with a modicum of common sense ought to immediately grasp the difference. Merely looking at a mannequin is certainly permitted, but being fixated at its presence—well, this reflects more of a psychosis or fetish. This idea is explicitly spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch as well [1], and the principle applies no less to the question of looking at idolatrous idols. [2]

The Mishnah in Avodah Zarah 3:4 tells us about a most remarkable story that is relevant to this discussion. The 1st century rabbinic sage Rabban Gamliel I (ca. mid  1st century C.E.) used to frequent Aphrodite’s bathhouse.

Judging by Rabbi Cohen’s standards,  Rabban Gamliel’s behavior should have been very dubious indeed; I doubt Rabbi Cohen and his legion of Haredi supporters would have approved of any Orthodox rabbi or Jew today attending a bathhouse adorned with the sexy image of Aphrodite “staring” at him.

Yet, even standing in front of the Aphrodite goddess was of no religious consequences whatsoever because the statue was nothing more than an adornment for the bathhouse as the Mishnah plainly states. Remarkably, the Mishnaic Sages realized the statue was nothing more but a graven image.

All in all, the Haredi folks may want to read the old Greek myth about Pygmalion,  a man who  once fell in love with a statue he made. It seems that he was not the only one ….

Postscript:  An American Pygmalion?

Shortly after this story came out, similar incident occurred–not in Israel–but in the United States. In the town of Reading, Ohio, a barbecue restaurant displayed a scantily clad mannequin can keep her spot outside a Cincinnati area barbecue joint, but local officials want her to cover up a bit.

The life-size figure stands as a busty beacon outside a restaurant in suburban Reading owned by Kenny Tessel. He told zoning officials at a hearing Wednesday night that the advertising gimmick has boosted business 40 percent.

The 5-foot-10 mannequin is on the street wearing a bikini top and tight short-shorts, leading some residents to complain about her lack of clothing. Tessel brought the doll to Wednesday’s hearing draped in a long, sleeveless gray T-shirt. The board said Tessel may continue to use the figure only if it’s dressed more modestly in front of the restaurant, too.

What a remarkable coincidence! Who would have imagined that a similar story would occur elsewhere around the world? So I started thinking: What are the differences between the mannequin in Tiberias and its parallel story in Reading? Maybe there’s an important distinction to be made. Whenever going by a dress shop; or a swimming suit shop, one expects to see a mannequin display whatever happens to be the fashion of the day.

However, with respect to the Reading mannequin, some people just felt its appearance was in bad taste, especially since it involves a family restaurant. Ultimately, it is the community leadership that decides the standards used by stores–and such matters cannot be decided by one person’s decision.

Jewish law frequently has to make subtle distinctions between cases, which on the surface appear similar but are not.

Postscript B: May 14th, 2009.

Well, the merchants of Tiberias were finally heard. When Mayor Zohar Oved got wind of the matter on Wednesday, he spoke with the Head of the Religious Council, Yaakov Sheetrit, and called for Cohen to be suspended. “I deplore Rabbi Cohen’s strange actions, which upset the delicate balance between the city’s different sectors,” Oved said. Tiberias is an international tourist city,” he added, “and as such it contains tourist zones which operate peacefully alongside neighborhoods with a religious character ….

The bond between religious and secular in the city is a close one and I will not allow a rabbi acting as he pleases and with no support, to upset it,” he declared.

And let us say, “Amen.”



[1] Y.D. 142:15, see Be’or Halacha.

[2] BT. Shabbat 149b and BT Avodah Zara 50a with the gloss of Tosfot, s.v. בחול אסור.

Excerpts from the Pope’s Speech at Yad Vashem

Pope Benedict XVI visits Yad Vashem Memorial, Jerusalem

“I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name … I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off” (Is 56:5).

This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: yad – “memorial”; shem – “name”. I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God.

Sacred Scripture teaches us the importance of names in conferring upon someone a unique mission or a special gift. God called Abram “Abraham” because he was to become the “father of many nations” (Gen 17:5). Jacob was called “Israel” because he had “contended with God and man and prevailed” (Gen 32:29). The names enshrined in this hallowed monument will forever hold a sacred place among the countless descendants of Abraham. Like his, their faith was tested. Like Jacob, they were immersed in the struggle to discern the designs of the Almighty. May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!

The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here. Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, color, condition of life or religion – their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, I reaffirm – like my predecessors – that the Church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of peace (cf. Ps 85:9).

— Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks at Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem (May 11, 2009)

Journey through the Looking-glass: Pope Benedict XVI’s Interfaith Encounter in the Holy Land

One of the most interesting aspects of the Pope’s recent visit to Israel was the interfaith group that met with the Pope to discuss important issues and challenges that Jews, Christians and Muslims face as a faith community. Despite the good intentions of the forum’s organizers, the Pope’s desire to act as a facilitator for religious tolerance found some explosive road-blocks along the way, as they met at the holy site Norte Dame.

Following the pope’s visit to Yad Vashem, Palestinian leader Sheik Taysir Tamimi forced his way to the pulpit at an inter-religious event demanding that the pope to fight for “a just peace for a Palestinian state and for Israel to stop killing women and children and destroying mosques as she did in Gaza”; he asked the pope to “pressure the Israeli government to stop its aggression against the Palestinian people.”

Of course not a word was said about how these mosques were being used as military bases to attack Israeli citizens. Evidently, Tamimi doesn’t get what “Never Again” really means. Context is everything. But let us return back to our discussion.

Rather than confronting Sheik Taysir Tamimi, the Pope quietly listened and left the room. As one friend of mine wrote in his blog, “The biggest shame of it all is that the  entire Muslim community he represented was not even embarrassed by or ashamed of this verbal explosion.”

Yet, this was not the only place where Pope Benedict XVI found some difficulties. After he spoke at the Yad Vashem, the Pope proclaimed that he had come: “to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah … ‘May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten!”

Rabbi Lau, the former Chief Ashkanzic Rabbi of Israel and holocaust survivor took center stage and said, “The Pope’s Speech was devoid of compassion …” Shaming any individual is wrong—especially when that individual happens to be the religious leader who represents over a billion Catholics worldwide!

If I were Rabbi Lau, I would examine my own behavior and ask myself: Couldn’t the criticisms have been made in a more personal and less public venue? On the other hand, the Vatican ought to be a little circumspect with his behavior as well. Rabbi Lau justifiably said that the Pope spoke in vague generalities about the victims of the Holocaust, and chose to use the word “millions” instead of the more specific “six million.” When referring to the Jewish victims, he referred to them as being “killed” rather than the more precise verb “murdered.” These are legitimate criticisms. That being said, I think Pope Benedict XVI’s next meeting will show a marked improvement in every respect.

Postscript: May 14th

If I were the Pope, I would look to the example of Pope John Paul II. One of the greatest qualities he showed was a capacity to personally relate with the people. Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is a trained academic, who is more comfortable giving a lecture at a seminary or at a college. Pope John Paul II had a very charismatic ability and could relate to his audience with life anecdotes and the lessons he learned. When Pope John Paul II arrived at the Yad Vashem, his crucifix was made out of cast iron resembling the twisted barb-wired fences of the concentration camps; at the top of the crucifix stood an image of Jesus, intimating that he too was among those who suffered in the camps.  How could one not be deeply moved by such a powerful identification? With time, I hope Pope Benedict XVI acts more like his predecessor.