Pope John Paul and us

It has only been a few hours since I published an appreciation of the Pope in Jewish World Review, and the feedback has already begun, even though it was posted in the middle of the night, East Coast time. Given the popularity of JWR (in my mind, one of the most potent forces of kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s Name), period; read by huge numbers of non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews), this was not terribly surprising.

I will anticipate some raised eyebrows from within the Jewish community. Is what happens within the Church any of our business? Does there have to be a Jewish response to the passing of the Pope?

Yes, I say, and for two reasons.

First of all, it is the right thing to do, the correct thing. Our tradition supports it, both because unlike many other faiths, we do not claim a monopoly on Heaven. We fully believe that the righteous of the nations of the world have a place in the World to Come. The Be’er HaGolah (Yoreh Deah 367:1) (clearly commenting about non-Jews who were his contemporaries, which means practicing Christians) speaks approvingly about showing last respects to non-Jews who were good people, who were included among these chasidei umos ha-olam. We also believe that hakaras hatov – acknowledging the good that anyone has shown us – is one of the pillars of Jewish life. Pope John Paul, it would seem to me, represented the confluence of both of these elements, and so we should show appreciation and gratitude.

Centuries ago, the Tiferes Yisrael praised a number of non-Jews to the rafters in his commentary to Avos (3:1 in the Boaz). He includes Jenner (for inventing the smallpox vaccine, thus saving so many lives) and Guttenberg (for inventing the printing press), and Johannes Reuchlin. Reuchlin indeed deserves much credit. In the 16th century, he stood up to a Jewish apostate, Jacob Pfeferkorn and the Dominican hierarchy, who pushed for the burning of all copies of the Talmud in the Empire. We should keep in mind, though, that Reuchlin was not particularly well disposed to Jews, much preferring their books to their beings. He was very much an enthusiastic Christian, who wished Jewish literature preserved primarily so that Christians could use them for their own purposes. None of this stopped the Tiferes Yisrael from appending the title chasid – righteous – to his name. Reuchlin’s accomplishment, I would think, was pretty much localized to his generation. Those of Pope John Paul will hopefully last much longer.

A second argument for Jewish interest in the Pope and succession deals with changed realities concerning the Church. Without ignoring or minimizing the many pockets of anti-Semitism that remain entrenched in the Church, it is still not the same institution that our grandparents knew. Especially in America, where new teachings have had a better chance of replacing old attitudes, younger generations of Catholics are taught positive things about Jews and Israel. (Much of this can be credited to John Paul.) The most cynical among us should ask ourselves whether we prefer a Church continuing the stereotypes of the past, or one that to a large extent preaches the opposite. We are free to write what we wish on this blog to a large extent because Divine Providence has seen to it that the Church has helped diminish the hatred of Jews in this country, and I thank Hashem for that.

A Catholic friend challenged me with a question that is a variation on the Jewish stake in the Vatican. “Do you Orthodox Jews really relish the thought that you may soon become the absolutely last people on the face of the earth to believe that G-d authored the Bible?” It was a sobering question, and it raises some new ones. Do we wish to be the last people to believe, for example, that marriage should be limited to people of opposite gender, or that human life in its terminal stages has a Divine component that must be respected? How easy will it be to navigate a world – socially or politically – where everyone looks upon us as Neanderthals? The papacy has a huge effect upon the attitudes of 1.2 billion Catholics. Pope John Paul held a conservative line on some key issues that we share. His successor will likewise have an important impact on the mores and attitudes of fellow travelers of this planet.

Like so many other complications of life, there is little that we should – or can – do to improve our chances. Ein lanu ela lisha-en al Avinu shebashomayim- we have only to rely upon our Father in Heaven.

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26 comments to Pope John Paul and us

  • mykroft

    Well written piece. In our attitudes, we are certainly closer to the Christian than to the secularist. The Rambam held that their acceptance of the Bible entitles Christians to a preferential treatment over other non-Jews with respect to the propriety of receiving Torah instruction. Of course Christians, unlike pagans, believe in briat haolam and yitziat mizraim and other main principles of our religion.
    Of course in general we share a lot of ideals with traditional Catholicism-our general abhorrence to abortion-although we would have a tad more exceptions of permission than Catholicism-our rejection of the perversions of homosexual” marriagea”
    We should have much more in common with the Church in the social realm-in the manner of tax and fiscal policy.It is a disgrace that we for the past 25 years or so, have had a society that has made the rich-richer and the poor =poorer. I frankly, dont see in our machene the concern for social justice that one often finds in the Jesuits and Franciscans. It is a part of our Mesorah-just read the Neviim-start with the Haftaeot of Fast Days and Yom Kippur. For whatever, good historical reasons-probably the Holocaust and other too frequent pogroms we’ve experienced throughout the age- the element of Tikkun Olam has been relatively neglected. I need not argue that we maaminim are less involved than our fellow Jews who unfortunately don’t believe in Torah-but we as believers who believe lifnei mi attah atid latet nefesh vcheshbon..should do much more in that essential part of the ending of the usual last haftarah before the 3 weeks”mah hashem doresh mimcha ki ….im hashem”

  • DovBear

    Four things you forgot.

    1 – JP II canonized Pius 9.
    2 – JP II beatified Pius 12, and tried very hard to canonize him
    3 – JP II moved heaven and earth (ignoring even his own medical experts) to canonize Edith Stein
    4 – JP II published “We Remember: A Reflection on the Soah” an apologia disguised as an apology, which failed to acknowledging that Nazism’s popularity was rooted in centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, and served mostly to rationalize Pope Pius XII’s failure to denounce the Nazis.

    If we’re going to praise JP II, and thank JP II, why not remember the whole of his legacy, warts and all?

  • mykroft

    How would you feel if a Catholic blog evaluated R. Moshe ZT”L the day he was niftar the way you, Dov Bear, evaluated the Pope. The date of his ptirah … bizman shemunach… Remember Pat Buchanan was pro_Israel until his Pope was attacked. A Pope the day he died.. where is the darchei shalom-even in the limited pragmatic sense of that term.

  • Toby Katz

    I agree with mykroft about this: “In our attitudes, we are certainly closer to the Christian than to the secularist.” However, he is mistaken about this: “It is a disgrace that we for the past 25 years or so, have had a society that has made the rich-richer and the poor =poorer.”

    Actually, under our system of economic freedom, both the rich and the poor have become richer over the last 25 years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Our poor people are the richest poor people in the history of the world, with indoor plumbing, central heating, electricity, enough food to make obesity their number one health problem, refrigerators, and TV’s. No one starves to death in America unless ordered to do so by a judge. Ask people who survived World War II what poverty is.

    Which brings me to DovBear’s negative comments about John Paul II. There was a Catholic in Cracow who was entrusted with a Jewish baby at the beginning of the war and was reluctant to give the child up at the end of the war. The young priest who insisted that the child be returned to its Jewish family was Karol Wojtyla–the man who became Pope John Paul II.

  • Yaakov Rosenblatt

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for your wonderful article. There is room in Catholic teaching to appreciate the Jews, and room in Catholic teaching to despise them. The Pope defined the former as the essence of Catholocism and did so as no other Pope has done before. I tip my black hat to him and those who follow his lead, and pray that his successor be among them.

  • Brother Bob

    Reb Adlerstein,
    I would like to point out that the majority of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. If you start with Evangelicals which are around 40% of the country, throw in the Eastern Orthodox, Orthodox Jews, Believeing Catholics, you are over 50%, in which case fears that the Bible believers days are numbered are highly overrated.

  • DovBear

    Which brings me to DovBear’s negative comments about John Paul II. There was a Catholic in Cracow who was entrusted with a Jewish baby at the beginning of the war and was reluctant to give the child up at the end of the war. The young priest who insisted that the child be returned to its Jewish family was Karol Wojtyla–the man who became Pope John Paul II.

    Toby Katz, John Paul II beatified Pius xii; Pius xii told Catholics, after the war, that they were forbidden to return to their parents Jewish children that had been baptized. So though, as you say, Karol Wojita returned an UNBAPTIZED Jewish child to his parents, as JP II he honored a Pope who ordered catholics to keep baptized Jewish children.

  • Sholom Simon

    DovBear, you are, of course, right to criticize JP II’s efforts of the beatifications of the Pius’s — those are certainly black marks. But all that proves is that JP II’s record is mixed. I think, though, on the whole, the record of relations towards us are pretty good, and certainly the best, or second best, of any Pope. I don’t know about you, but I never thought I’d live to see the day when a Pope would pray at the Kosel, or visit Yad V’Shem, or state, explicitly, that the church must bear some real responsibility of engendering anti-Semitism over the centuries. The church has come a long way — and the tremendous lion’s share of the credit is due to John 23, and JP II.

  • Neil

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    Excellent article. While it is true that “Chasedei Umot HaOlam” have a portion in the world to come. However that is only merited in so far as the individual has perfected his soul and relates to G-D. See Rambam, hilchot Tshuva 8:6 that explains this point. If so, while the pope may have engaged in many positive activities, he should not automatically be placed in the category of “Chasedei Umot HaOlam”

  • Chaim

    Rabbi Adlerstien,
    You wrote:
    “The Be?er HaGolah (Yoreh Deah 367:1) (clearly commenting about non-Jews who were his contemporaries, which means practicing Christians) speaks approvingly about showing last respects to non-Jews who were good people, who were included among these chasidei umos ha-olam”

    I don’t think this is so pashut. If you look at the Be?er HaGolah you will see that he is quoting the Bais Yosef. The Bais Yosef brings down the Kol Bo who says that one should escort a meis even if the meis is not Jewish. The Bais Yosef says that either we escort the non Jew because of Darkei Shalom or the Kol Bo was referring to a Chasidei Umos Ha’Olam.

    (The Bach argues and says it is only because of Darkei Shalom)

    However, the Bais Yosef NEVER defines what is considered a Chasidei Umos Ha’Olam.
    The Rambam in Melachim 8:11 however does define this catagory. It is someone who keeps the 7 mitzvos because Hashem commanded it. If he keeps it based on logic he is not one of the Chasidei Umos Ha’Olam. The Kesef Mishna says this definition is the Rambam’s own sevara but it is correct.

    Clearly, it is not accurate to say the Be’er HaGolah was commenting about his contemporary non Jews. Also, I don’t know if the Pope would fit the Rambam’s definition.

  • EV

    DovBear, you might be relying on bad information when you say that Pope “Pius XII told Catholics, after the war, that they were forbidden to return to their parents Jewish children that had been baptized.” After the initial allegations to that effect hit the news last January, one reporter actually decided to hunt down the memo that alleged this and thereby determined that the opposite was true. The details are in this BeliefNet article: http://beliefnet.com/story/159/story_15942.html

    An English translation of the letter in question is here: http://beliefnet.com/story/159/story_15952_1.html

    I would also ask that detractors of Pope Pius XII at least consider this article on that Pope’s relationship w/Jews penned in 1963 by a then director of the International Affairs Department of the Anti-Defamation League: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/piusdef2.html

  • DovBear

    Some thoughts on Pius xii

    During World War II, Pius 12 protested the treatment of Jews who converted to catholism. He protested the invasions of Luxemburg and Belgium. He protested the treatment of Polish Catholics. He even protested when the Nazi’s mistreatment German Catholics via an encyclical that was read from every pulpit in Germany. So where was his voice when millions of Jews were being slaughtered?

    A common defense is the the Roman pontiff was silent because he feared for his life. Leave aside the question of whether or not a moral leader such as a pope should ever allow himself to be gagged. Leave aside the inconvenient example of the Danish King (among others) who loudly protested Hitler’s campaign against the Jews and suffered no retributions at all. In fact, leave aside the example of the German Catholic bishops who protested – again without penalty – the Nazi’s practice of murdering the mentally handicapped. Focus instead on this: After 1943 Rome was in Allied hands. The pope was perfectly safe and under the protection of Allied forces. Though deportations, massacres and slaughters of Jews went on for almost another year after the liberation of Rome the pope continued his silence. Why?

    Other questions, in 1948 the pope excommunicated every Communist in the world but he never excommunicated a single nazi. Why? In 1943 the Lutheran church published a statement that was read from every pulpit in Scandinavia. It expressly protested the German policy towards Jews and called upon Scandinavian Lutherans to _struggle_ against Hitler. Why did the Catholic church never do something similar?

    If you support Pius 12, (and JP II’s efforts to cannoinze this man) I hope you’ll grapple a bit with the questions.

  • DovBear

    Here’s a smoking gun quote ( http://beliefnet.com/story/159/story_15952_1.html) from a letter sent to Catholic clergy in France on October 1946. All agree this letter is authentic, even your Ronald Rychlack (the author of the belief net article) who cites this letter, before trying to explain it away:

    “Eventually, it will be necessary to explain that the Church must do its own research and observations in order to discern case by case, it being evident that children who were baptized cannot be entrusted to institutions that cannot guarantee their Christian education.”

    This is in keeping with long-standing Church policies. Baptized children were not to be given over to non-catholic parents who could not guarantee that the children would be brought up Catholic. That’s Church policy going back hundreds of years. I doubt even John Paul II himself could renounce this policy, articulated, as it was, by his infalliable predecessors.

  • DovBear: Nobody’s perfect. Are you reallying saying that the few (aguably symbolic) things he did wrong outweigh the many (substantive) things he did right?

    (Are you also going to criticize him for not keeping kosher?)

  • DovBear

    There were substansive things he did wrong. I’ve discussed them here and elsewhere.

    My purpose is not to judge the man, but to balance the record and the praise. Too many Jewish bloggers are whitewashing his career and refusing to grapple with the complexities of his record. In fact, Joe Shcick is the only blogger I’ve found willing to say anything negative about this Pope. I find that troubling – not because I want the J-Bloggers to bury him, but because I want the J-blogs to consider his record honestly and completely.

    You can draw your own conclusions, but please don’t insult both of our intelligance by referring to actions like his beatification of Pius 9, arguably one of the most anti-Semitic men in history, his praise of Arafat, his knighting Kurt Waldheim, his support for Pius 12, and his holocaust apologetics as “symbolic.”

  • Brian Van Hove

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein:

    I wished to indicate some fine points from history in regard to your worthy thoughts about Pope John Paul II.

    1. It was Pope Paul VI who signed and promulgated Nostra Aetate in 1965, not John XXIII. Before the final version was published, Rabbi Abraham Heschel went from New York to Rome to make any last-minute corrections or suggestions. Heschel told me this himself in June 1971. In fact, he laughed saying, “I worked in the pope’s bedroom, not the library!”
    2. Archbishop Angelo Roncalli was credited with funnelling 45 thousand Jewish persons out through the Istanbul connection when he was stationed there. However, given the era, it would have been unthinkable for him to do this without the consent of of his superiors. When he was in Istanbul, at least 10-15 thousand Jewish persons were located in and then led away to safety from the extra-territorial property of Castel Gondolfo, the summer residence near Lake Albano of Roncalli’s direct superior, Pius XII. A wall has been preserved there which is blackened from the smoke of the fires since the people had to cook outdoors. When Pius died, Golda Meir sent a moving telegram of condolences. Margherita Marchione has recently written about this period, using cogent material. The damage done by Rolf Hockhuth is inestimable in falsifying the historical Pius XII.
    3. In the case of the Polish family who asked their young priest about the morality of adopting the child or sending him to America to join his Jewish relatives, one thing should not be forgotten. It was the conscience of this particular family which should be congratulated, along with Wojtyla’s judgment. Many families, in different parts of Europe, just said nothing and adopted the children they had taken in as infants or toddlers during the war.
    4. The distinguished late historian Robert Graham once remarked to me that “during the war, it wasn’t the Jews who complained about Pius XII, it was the Polish bishops!” Pope John Paul II had access to the perspective of history–he constantly brooded over history, as Eamon Duffy has put it–and he beatified Pius XII to make a point for history and for faith, not politics.
    5. Thank you for your sympathetic article.

    Brian Van Hove, PhD

  • dilbert

    The Bear has a good point. We should certainly acknowledge the many good things that the pope did, especially in saving Jewish lives and personally sending Jewish kids back to their parents/faith. However, he was wrong about Pious, Edith, and others. We can say that. We should say that. The pope is a symbol. He does symbolic things. And in this case, those symbolic things matter, and may reflect deeper beliefs. In his kvittel the pope wrote about “those” who have harmed the Jews. It didn’t say “we catholics who have persecuted the Jews for 2 millenia”. There was no sense of responsibility for the crimes of the past. Of course the pope did well, improved relations, went to yad vashem, etc. but there is no reason to beatify him.

    There are those who say we should let bygones be bygones. That we dont need an apology for the past. I dont think that the lack of a true apology and remorse should be an impediment to good relations. However, the lack of that awareness does say volumes about the church and the pope.

  • Hanan

    Regarding what Neil wrote in not putting the Pope under the category of “Chasedei Umot HaOlam”… if not the pope than who do you think should be? I mean noone can utterly perfect his soul, you do what you can. You belittle him by merely saying “he engaged in many positive activities” like as if its nothing. He probably did much more than most people can ever do. And the way he relates to God… well I think he probably was more closer to God than most Jews will ever even want to be.

  • DovBear

    I don’t know why Brian Van Hove, PhD, is defending Pius 12, when so many historians, including James Carrol, Daniel Goldhagen, Gary Wills and John Cornwell (who all have Ph.Ds!) have made it crystal clear that Pius 12 was no friend of ours.

  • DovBear

    And the way he relates to God… well I think he probably was more closer to God than most Jews will ever even want to be.

    Hanan, I will presume you are a non-Jew, with no way of knowing that we Jews find it offensive when God and Jesus are conflated.

    What yo don’t understand is this: The Pope’s God was not our God. His conception of God was idolatry (idolatry for Jews, anyway) and, therefore, of no real significance to Jewish people.

  • Hanan

    Sorry to burst your bubble DovBear, but I am Jewish, and I very much know the problems with the idea of God and Jesus. It probably isent significant to us Jews of his conception of God, but I doubt that God will hold 1 billion catholics accountable for what they were taught and has been taught for two thousand years. I think its much more complicated matter than just saying they are idolaters and therefore have no portion in the world to come.

  • DovBear

    I think it’s wrong to imagine that JP II was “close to God” when he would be the first to tell you that he was close to Jesus and Mary, too. There’s nothing there for Jews to admire or study.

  • Hanan

    You dont have to admire or study his closeness to Mary or Jesus, but we can certainly look at how his devotion, and they way he puts his entire soul into his belief, and put that in our love to Hashem. That is what I mean’t by my original comment.

  • Zev

    “we Jews find it offensive when God and Jesus are conflated.”

    I’m a frum Jew, and I don’t find it offensive at all. I don’t take it seriously enough to find it offensive, and I’ll bet that’s the attitude of lots of Jews. It’s only the liberals who are into interfaith dialogue who take this stuff seriously.

  • Yaakov Menken

    In my opinion, dwelling on Pius XII badly misses the point. If John Paul II thought that he qualified as a saint despite ignoring the Jews of the Holocaust, there are many Catholic saints about whom we would have worse to say. I don’t see how we could expect a Pope to not respect and beatify any previous Pope.

    If you look at the totality of who JP II was, he broke new ground. This is reflected in his last will, which singles out only one living person that he felt fortunate to meet: the Rabbi of Rome.

  • DovBear

    What you said about his will is not true. The Rabbi was mentioned at the very end of a paragraph that refers favorably to all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, Catholic lay-people and non-Christian brothers in the world. At the tail end of that, one Jew gets a mention, and not even by name, but by his office. Nowhere does he say he was “fortunate” to meet the Rabbi.

    In context, it looks tacked on, or like a courtesy mention.

    I agree that there are Catholic saints who were as bad as Pius 12 if not worse. JP II and the Church have renounced exactly none of them. Doesn’t that take some of the air out of their “apologies?”

    Let me put it bluntly: He came too late, did too little and stayed too long.