Professor Asher J. Matathias has shared with me another interesting piece, this one about the relationship between the Jewish People and our Christian cousins. It makes for interesting Shabbos discussion. I wish you all a Gut Shabbos!
B”H November 5, 2001 In a Sea of Darkness Rays of Hope Emerge One of the most-frequently reviewed books in parlors and ballrooms around the country is James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword, an evocative history of the Catholic Church’s relationship with Judaism and Jews. So it was this evening, after I led evening worship at Temple Beth El, Cedarhurst, that president Richard Holland graciously and warmly invited me to attend Rabbi Sholom Stern’s penetrating assessment of the work, culminating sisterhood’s supperette program. The thick tome (we will discuss it at the next meeting of docents at the Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center in Glen Cove), is written by a former priest, the son of an Air Force general and a devout, influential mother. The author’s awareness of anti-Semitism coincided with his growing unease over American involvement in the Vietnam conflict. At Boston University, the school was commonly referred as “B-Jew” reflecting its high enrollment from a minority beginning to benefit from the fall of registration quotas and other restrictions. Then, a stark contrast unfolded at the nearby recruiting station: the potential enlistees were mainly Catholic, whereas the protesters surrounding the facility were mainly Jewish.
Other revelatory early experiences included the time at BU when the author conducted a Seder and, upon breaking the matza, offered it as the “body of Christ,” to the consternation and silence of those present. Or, in the post-Munich 1972 Israeli Olympic athletes’ massacre by the P.L.O., a joint memorial service was scheduled at the school’s chapel, only to see the Jewish students demur because the cross had a prominent presence.
Such personal missteps in a Christian’s approach to the Jews dramatically reflect the wholesale institutional egregious conduct by the Catholic Church towards them over the centuries. The sword in the title refers to the fiery image that was revealed in Roman Emperor Constantine’s dream on the eve of a decisive battle in the fourth century C.E. Awaking, he took the symbol, sword=cross, to mean that his enterprise was divinely favored, winning and then imposing Christianity on the empire by fiat.
Over the next millennia, temporal authority merged with the spiritual to the detriment of Judaism — the attacks by Crusaders, the blood libel at Passover, responsibility for the Black Plague, the canard of dual loyalties — and of free thought (until the convulsive movements of the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the Enlightenment).
In the 20th century, controversies swirled around the Church focusing on the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust (was he guilty of complicity through his silence?), the erection of a convent and crosses at the Auschwitz extermination camp, the doctrine of papal infallibility, and addressing the issue of making a hierarchical institution more democratic. To the last point, the Catholic Church, for standing at the crossroads of fertile intellectual activity, is measurably more progressive than Christianity’s Eastern counterpart. (The author labors to see a connection between Lutheranism and lethal anti-Semitism, but he sees clearly the need to alter the Church’s 1998 statement on its role to save lives during the Shoa from “Many assisted, while some did nothing,” to “Many did nothing, while some others assisted.”)
Signs of hope, with a promise for better Catholic-Jewish relations have ebbed, and now seem in an upswing. Key to the changed and improved atmosphere was the work of the saintly Pope John XXIII, convening the Vatical Council that ended the stigma of G-d-killers, addressing the late-revered Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as “my brother,” even descending from his throne to greet him.
James Carroll’s prescriptions for reform of, and repentance for, the Church he so profoundly loves is every Jew’s dream and prayer. Let there be: a stop to the praise of the diplomacy of Pope Pius XII; recognition of a Hebrew Bible and a Christian scripture; excision of all anti-Judaism references in the New Testament; the realization that a flawed Gospel was created by flawed writers is good news; the raising of Christian sensibility via having anti-Jewish texts taught to the Church not to Jews; the encouragement of ambiguity and pluralism, indeed, recognition of the treasure that is the enjoyment of freedom emanating from the separation of religion and government!
However, we need not “knock on wood,” for the guarded optimism that we may feel at this juncture, for that, too, is a remnant of Christian lore which posits that the original cross, on which the crucifixion took place, was broken up its pieces scattered, hence the possibility and hope (for good luck) the “knock” is perchance a part of the whole.
With such enormous issues to address, the recent memorandum circulated by the self-described Torah Council of Far Rockaway and the Five Towns “concerned for the integrity of the Orthodox Community )sic),” may be picayune were it not for its nefarious potential. Just as James Carroll would decry the reference and the implication that the “New” Testament is better, as is the founding of a “new” “true” Israel, de-legitimizing Jews and their religion, the rabbis would negate the authenticity of practicing coreligionists who do not adhere to their absolutist weltanschauung.
Specifically, they vehemently oppose the ongoing, and manifestly successful Adult Jewish Studies Program, sponsored by the 5T Jewish Council, and housed in the Orthodox high school HAFTR yeshiva in Cedarhurst. For six weeks, on Tuesday evenings, rabbis reflecting the heterogeneous American Jewish scene, hold forth on a variety of topics in a casual, informal manner, bringing their perspective and insights to a grateful public thirsty to imbibe the wisdom of sages and ages.
Heartfelt kudos are extended for the profiles in courage created by Orthodox rabbis — they do not see their principles compromised, not by their presence “provide them (Reform and Conservative) an imprimatur.” Further, and painfully, the Far Rockaway group has taken a 1954 “p’sak” (thoughtful ruling) by Rabbi Soloveitchik out of context and lumped Reform and Conservative rabbis with heretics, even non-believers, infidels in common current international parlance. There is not an ounce of compassion, understanding, not to mention tolerance and love in this diatribe. They attempt to set up a construct — in the model of the war that is being prosecuted by our nation against world-wide terrorism — “between right and wrong.” It fails, for it is patently false. Without fear of contradiction, the sentiments expressed in this notorious document (reissued and unanswered in previous years, this time allegedly mailed without the expressed permission of some signatories) should be decried for being divisive, and the signing men themselves overtly “antagonistic to Torah values.”
Let the Institute continue and thrive, with the dissenting rabbis contributing to the dialogue; let us have Emet VeShalom, truth and peace; and let us also demonstrate, please G-d, Ahavat Yisrael, love for Israel, not in the abstract, but here and now, for … all Jews!
Sincerely, and with fraternal affection, Asher Prof. Asher J. Matathias 312 Longacre Avenue, Woodmere, NY 11598-2530 516-374-2958 Mobile: 369-5799 [email protected]