World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder calls on Pope Benedict XVI to clarify Vatican’s stance on Pius XII

January 17, 2010


Pope Benedict & Ronald S. Lauder

Pope Benedict & Ronald S. Lauder

The following opinion article by World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder was published by the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on the eve of Pope Benedict’s visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome.

Time for a few illuminating words

By Ronald S. Lauder

When a Catholic bishop visits the main synagogue in his diocese it is first and foremost a mark of friendship and an expression of the good relationship between the two local religious communities. Things are somewhat different when such a visit occurs in Rome, as the Bishop of Rome is also pontiff of the Catholic Church, representing more than a billion Catholics world-wide.

It is therefore important to Jews around the world what Pope Benedict XVI has to say this Sunday in Rome’s main synagogue on the Jewish-Catholic relationship and on a number of sensitive issues has already caused a sensation during his pontificate thus far.

Benedict XVI has often emphasized how important good relations to Judaism are to him. Through his trips to Israel, to Auschwitz, and his visits to synagogues in Cologne and New York, he has proved that he is sincere.

The German-born Pope has always been an outstanding theologian and a sharp-witted thinker. And yet, sometimes we see another Benedict, one who surprises us with decisions that – even for the well-meaning amongst us – are difficult to comprehend.

We Jews are generally very sensitive folk; some would say over-sensitive – although history has given us enough reason to be vigilant, given that anti-Semitism was very widespread and deeply rooted in the higher echelons of the Christian churches until a few decades ago.

Moreover, we Jews are an emotional people, and in public life we don’t always judge a statement or a decision made by the Pope by purely rational or intellectual criteria which perhaps are the hallmarks of a theological seminary. We pay close attention to gestures and symbols, especially from a Pope of German origin.

And we are quick to interpret his decisions in a certain way, even when they do not appear entirely obvious to us, because we always fear that others will deliberately interpret them in a way that one could regard as offensive to us.

All of this wouldn’t matter much had not dissent and controversies between our religions often served as justification for exclusion, persecution, and even violence. We need to make sure that we overcome former divisions and do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Certain reasoning and decision-making by the Pope that is perfectly logical within the framework of Catholic theology and teaching can have a completely different meaning for the outside world (the same also applies to Jewish thinking), hence the need to explain and communicate these decisions in a comprehensible fashion.

When the Pope allows the use of the Good Friday Prayer of the old Tridentine liturgy, which calls for Jews to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all men, some of us are deeply hurt.

When the Pope decides to lift the excommunication of bishops of the ultra-conservative and anti-Semitic Society of St. Pius X, among them a notorious Holocaust denier, we are upset.

When we have the impression that the beatification process of Pope Pius XII is being rushed through before all the documentation kept by the Vatican on this pontificate is revealed, many of us are disturbed. During that Pope’s pontificate, six million Jews in Europe were murdered by the Nazis, and there is an on-going debate about whether Pius XII really did all in his power to save at least some of them.

Holocaust survivors in particular feel upset when “heroic virtues” are accorded to Pius XII, even though that may make perfect sense within the inner-Catholic framework and may have nothing to do with his actions during World War II. To be clear: is it neither up to us Jews, nor to other outsiders, to decide who should be declared a hero or a saint of the Catholic Church. I also do not presume to be in a position to render a final judgment on Pius’ actions – or inaction – during World War II.

Yet those who view Pius XII and his behavior during that period critically – among them many historians – should be heard before irreversible decisions are taken hastily. Until all papers relating to Pius XII during the crucial period are accessible, the Vatican would be well advised to pause for a moment. Otherwise, even Catholics might have great trouble in recognizing the “heroic virtues” of Pius XII, and the reputation of the present Pope would consequently also suffer some damage.

Despite all these differences in opinion between Catholics and Jews – and it is only normal that they exist – the relationship between Jews and the Vatican is based on a solid foundation. We have managed, since the 1965 Declaration Nostra Aetate, to maintain a dialogue based on mutual trust. This dialogue is much more advanced than that with other Christian denominations, or with Islam.

I harbor no doubts whatever about the positive attitude and open-mindedness of Pope Benedict XVI vis-à-vis the Jews. He is more than welcome in our synagogues and I hope there will be many more such important occasions in the future.

However, on Sunday, when he pays a visit to Rome’s main synagogue on the invitation of the local Jewish community, we would welcome a few illuminating answers to some of the questions I outlined above. That could help dispel some of the irritations of the past months that have unnecessarily strained Jewish-Catholic relations.

Many Jews would recognize that as a small “heroic virtue” of the Pope.

Alan Posener’s Column: The Open Society and its Trends

October 23, 2009

by Alan Posener
Die Welt / Welt am Sonntag  / HIRAM7 REVIEW

Something’s going on in Europe, and I don’t like it.

There’s the future German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s refusal to even listen to the question of a BBC correspondent, unless it’s put to him in German:

There’s the BBC giving the British National Party’s Nick Griffin a nationwide TV platform for his racist and anti-Semitic views.

And there’s people not only defending German Central Banker Thilo Sarrazin’s right to make racist comments, but denying that they are racist and demanding a muzzle for people who dare to say they are racist.

You only have to look at the comments on Youtube and elsewhere to realize what it is that is going on here: the political and chattering classes have abandoned the rules governing their chatter; nationalism, racism and intolerance in general are being allowed back into polite society after spending the past 40 years out in the cold.

Political correctness – that great civilizer – is dead. Multiculturalism is under siege. And the ban on anti-Semitism – which the Catholic Church has already lifted by welcoming back the anti-Semitic Pius Brotherhood into its ranks – will soon be as worthless as the paper on which Sir Karl Popper’s great book on the Open Society was written.

I mention Karl Popper, because in the age of Totalitarianism he confronted a vexing question of democracy head-on: was the open society bound by its own philosophical, legal and political parameters to tolerate the propaganda of its enemies?

Popper said no: there was no reason to tolerate intolerance; no reason to grant freedom to the enemies of freedom; there should be no openness towards the enemies of openness. People who want one man, one vote one time should not – as they were in Gaza – be allowed to contest elections. Democracy is more important than freedom; more important than truth; more important than justice – or any one of the multitude of ideas, concepts, slogans and ideals in whose name one could (and people have tried to) suspend democracy.

It’s always the enemies of tolerance who chafe at this seeming intolerance of democracy. One shouldn’t let oneself be fooled. People say, “If you stop people from saying what Sarrazin said, you are denying 80 percent of the population a voice.”

Well, if 80 percent of the population are racist, which I don’t believe for a moment, but I’m saying if, then fuck them and there’s all the more reason to keep a tight lid on what is said by public figures, isn’t there?

Popper didn’t call his book “The Majority Rules”, he called it “The Open Society”. Even 99 percent of the population don’t have the right to dismantle the open society and replace it with a society in which privileges are awarded or denied according to race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation or social background.

That’s what Europe has been about this past half-century. Let’s keep it that way.

Alan Poseners Kolumne: Benedikts Kreuzzug – Der Angriff des Vatikans auf die moderne Gesellschaft

October 13, 2009

Der britisch-deutsche Journalist Alan Posener kommentiert wöchentlich das Zeitgeschehen in Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Kultur für HIRAM7 REVIEW.

Von Alan Posener
Die Welt / Welt am Sonntag  / HIRAM7 REVIEW

Konservative sind stolz darauf, die besseren Menschen zu sein. Andere mögen bessere Ideen haben; sie mögen moralisch anspruchsvoller sein (dann werden sie von den Konservativen verächtlich „Gutmenschen“ genannt), aber weil der Konservative seinen privaten Anstand über die Ideen der Menschheitsbeglücker stellt, ist er am Ende eben der wahre Gutmensch.

In den letzten Tagen hatte ich zwei Mal die Möglichkeit, dieses konservative Selbstbild zu überprüfen. Zwei Konservative, mit denen ich bekannt, ja beinahe befreundet bin, haben mein Buch über Benedikt XVI besprochen: der katholische Arzt, Psychiater und Theologe Dr. Manfred Lütz, und der CDU-nahe Publizist Dr. Alexander Gauland.

Hier sind die Besprechungen:

Dr. Manfred Lütz, Frankfurter Rundschau, 12.10.2009

Dr. Alexander Gauland, Deutschlandradio Kultur, 04.10.2009

Niemand hat sie gezwungen, das Buch zu besprechen – sie wurden von den Redaktionen darum gebeten, und auch Konservative sind nur Menschen. Beiden war ein wenig unwohl bei der Sache. Das weiß ich, weil der eine mich vorher angerufen hat, ums sich sozusagen von vornherein Absolution erteilen zu lassen für den beabsichtigten Verriss; der zweite rief mich danach an und fragte als erstes: „Na, reden Sie überhaupt noch mit mir?“ Beiden war natürlich klar, dass ich die Absolution erteilen würde, dass ich nicht vorhabe, öffentlich ausgetragene Meinungsverschiedenheiten persönlich zu nehmen. Ich heiße ja nicht Henryk M. Broder oder Ingo Langner.

Ich bin meinen konservativen Freunden schon deshalb nicht böse, weil ich von dem Grundsatz des großen Sam Goldwyn überzeugt bin: „There is no such thing as bad publicity.“ Jedenfalls hat mein Buch bei einen Sprung gemacht, der vielleicht auch auf die Intervention der beiden zurückzuführen ist. Ein weiterer Grund ist: ich bin eben ein netter Mensch.

Wie gesagt, ich bin nicht böse über böse Kritiken; verstört bin ich darüber, dass beide Kritiker es nötig fanden, ad hominem zu argumentieren, also ein Mittel zu verwenden, das sie selbst zu verabscheuen vorgeben, und das nach konservativem Selbstverständnis auch nicht statthaft ist. Nein, Quatsch, ich bin nicht verstört; denn ich habe selten erlebt, dass sich Konservative an ihre eigenen Grundsätze gehalten hätten. Die größten Vertreter von Familienwerten sind notorische Ehebrecher, die größten Schwulenfeinde sind heimliche Schwule, und so könnte man den Katalog konservativer Werte durchdeklinieren, einschließlich des Faktums, dass die drei größten „Konservativen“ der Nachkriegszeit – Adenauer, Reagan und Thatcher – ja nicht konservativ waren, sondern revolutionär. Was mich mit ihnen versöhnt. Aber nun zu unseren Autoren.

Beide müssen mich unbedingt als eifernden Konvertiten hinstellen: Lütz stellt mich als „Jünger“ Richard Dawkins’ hin, als hätte ich Dawkins’ „Gotteswahn“ gebraucht, um Atheist zu werden; Gauland kommt „leider nicht umhin, auf die linksradikale Vergangenheit des Autors hinzuweisen“, die er zwar überwunden habe, aber „wie so oft bei großen Konversionen“ leider „im Sinne des leidenschaftlichen Umarmens von Kapitalismus, Liberalismus, Demokratie und Marktwirtschaft“. Diese seien dessen „neue Götter“.

Man erkennt die Absicht und ist verstimmt: Atheist zu sein, und gar Dawkins zu mögen, gilt in Deutschland – anders als in England, wo es sogar innerhalb der Staatskirche eine agnostische Tradition gibt, und wo Dawkins zu den angesehensten Professoren der Universität Oxford gehört – immer noch als irgendwie anrüchig. Ein „Jünger“ ist jemand, der nicht selbst denkt. Kapitalismus, Liberalismus, Demokratie und Marktwirtschaft zu „umarmen“, ist fast noch schlimmer als Atheist und Darwinist zu sein, und eine „linksradikale Vergangenheit“ – in England Ausweis selbstständigen Denkens, siehe Orwell, Koestler, Berlin, Popper usw. usf. – gilt hier als Beweis von Charakterschwäche und macht einen des Achtundsechzigerturms verdächtig. Nein, man sollte möglichst immer in der Jungen Union gewesen sein, immer irgendwie an den christlichen Gott geglaubt haben, immer irgendwie skeptisch gegenüber „Kapitalismus, Liberalismus, Demokratie und Marktwirtschaft“ gewesen sein (aber nicht linksradikal, gell): sonst ist man irgendwie nicht ganz koscher.

Womit ich bei Alexander Gauland bin, dessen Text mich mehr geärgert hat als jener von Manfred Lütz. Dass mich Gauland mit Heine und Harden vergleich, schmeichelt natürlich. Ist es aber Zufall, dass diese beiden Juden sind? Der Artikel ist illustriert mit einem Bild, auf dem Papst Benedikt XVI dem israelischen Staatspräsidenten Schimon Peres die Hand gibt: Was, bitte sehr, hat das mit meinem Buch zu tun? Es sei denn, man will „dem Juden“ Posener zeigen, dass auch „sein“ Staatspräsident dem Papst wohl gesonnen sei. Nun gut, vermutlich hat Alexander Gauland mit der Illustration nichts zu tun; das war die Redaktion von DeutschlandRadio Kultur. Die jedenfalls auch den Eindruck bekommen haben muss, hier ginge es darum, den deutschen Papst gegen einen jüdischen Angriff zu verteidigen. Und dann: Alexander Gauland und ich kennen uns lange genug, um wenigstens unsere Namen richtig schreiben zu können; er schreibt aber durchweg „Posner“. Immerhin steht „Posener“ auf dem Buchdeckel. Wie genau hat er also gelesen, bevor er seinem Zorn freien Lauf ließ?

Nichts für Ungut. Mit Manfred Lütz bin ich auf der Buchmesse zum Kaffee verabredet; mit Alexander Gauland werde ich sicher bald wieder in der Potsdamer „Ratswaage“ essen gehen. Die andere Wange, nicht wahr. Christen halten sie selten hin, Nichtchristen dafür umso öfter. Und meine Kritik an Benedikt war konservativer – im Sinne des konservativen Anspruchs, anständig zu sein – als diese konservative Kritik jener Kritik.

Link: Der anmaßende Papst, von Alan Posener, Frankfurter Rundschau, 15.10.2009

Die in HIRAM7 REVIEW veröffentlichten Essays und Kommentare geben nicht grundsätzlich den Standpunkt der Redaktion wieder.

Alan Poseners Kolumne: Papst Benedikt und die deutsche Anti-Israel Lobby

September 3, 2009

Der britisch-deutsche Journalist Alan Posener kommentiert wöchentlich das Zeitgeschehen in Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Kultur für HIRAM7 REVIEW.

Von Alan Posener
Die Welt / Welt am Sonntag  / HIRAM7 REVIEW

Robert Spaemann ist nicht irgendjemand. Der Philosoph ist Vordenker und Nachbeter des gegenwärtigen Papstes. Wenn sich also Spaemann zu Israel äußert, sollte man genau hinhören. Am 25. Juli 2009 veröffentlichte Spaemann einen Beitrag in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung (FAZ): „Schutz und Gehorsam“. Schon am nächsten Tag war er auf der Website der Deutsch-Arabischen Gesellschaft, der wichtigsten Organisation der deutschen Anti-Israel-Lobby,  nachzulesen.


Robert Spaemann beginnt mit der Feststellung: „Dem Staat Israel ist es in dem mehr als einen halben Jahrhundert seiner Existenz nicht gelungen, als bereichernder, selbstregulierender Teil der Region anerkannt zu werden.“

Das ist zweifellos richtig, und dafür gibt es Gründe, vornehmlich die Tatsache, dass die arabischen Führer kein Interesse an der Art Modernität haben, die Israel der Region seit seiner Gründung vorlebt. Demokratie, Rechtsstaatlichkeit, individuelle Freiheit, intellektuelle Lebendigkeit. (Das Interesse des Vatikans an diesen Errungenschaften der Moderne ist übrigens auch nicht stark ausgeprägt, aber das nur nebenbei.)  Spaemann macht aber Israel dafür verantwortlich, dass die meisten arabischen Staaten bis heute sein Existenzrecht nicht anerkennen: „(Israel) ist immer als Herr aufgetreten.“

Sagen wir es so: eine solche Schuldzuweisung ist zumindest einseitig.

Spaemann geht aber weiter: Israel habe sich nur deshalb ständig als Herr aufspielen können, weil es von den USA eine Schutzgarantie besitze. Wer auch nur elementare Kenntnisse der Geschichte des Nahostkonflikts besitzt, weiß zwar, das dies bis nach dem Sechstagekrieg 1967 keineswegs der Fall war; und dass die Schutzgarantie, die etwa die Bundesrepublik dank Besatzungsstatut und Nato genoss und genießt, viel stärker ist als die völkerrechtlich und militärisch unverbindlichen Erklärungen amerikanischer Präsidenten gegenüber Israel. Aber egal.

Aus dieser angeblichen Schutzfunktion der USA lautet Spaemann eine „Gehorsamspflicht“ Israels ab. Es sei nun einmal ein „Grundgesetz des politischen Lebens“: „Wer Schutz gewährt, muss die Bedingungen diktieren können.“ Und das täten die USA nicht, so dass sich Israel beständig „wie ein Halbwüchsiger handeln“ könne, der „nie die Suppe auslöffeln“ müsse, die er sich eingebrockt hat, weil „Papa es schon richten wird.“

Unsereiner dachte naiverweise, zum „Grundgesetz“ des Westens gehöre die Souveränität der Staaten, anders als im Ostblock unseligen Angedenkens. Wir dachten, über Israels Außenpolitik hätten Israels Regierungen zu entscheiden, und über Israels Regierungen die Wähler. Wir dachten, der „Zusammenhang von Schutz und Gehorsam“ sei mit dem Mittelalter verschwunden; und wir fragen uns, ob der Vatikan wirklich jemals bereit gewesen wäre, den Schutz, den ihm Italien und die Nato – also letztlich auch die USA – während des ganzen Kalten Kriegs gewährt haben, mit irgendeiner Form des „Gehorsams“ zu beantworten. Das war zwar der beständige Vorwurf der Kommunisten, die im Papst lediglich eine Propagandapuppe des US-Imperialismus sahen, aber gegen solche Anwürfe hat unsereiner die Päpste stets in Schutz genommen.

Und es ließe sich ohne weiteres nachweisen, dass der Vatikan seine Politik nie von den Interessen Italiens, der Nato oder des Westens diktieren ließ. Aber quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi, so mag Spaemann denken: natürlich gelten „politische Grundgesetze“ nicht für den Stellvertreter Gottes auf Erden. Sondern allenfalls für jene, die durch ihre bloße Existenz jenen Anspruch des Papstes, Gottes Stellvertreter und alleinbevollmächtigter Ausleger seines Willens zu sein, in Frage stellen: sein Volk – die Juden.

Was soll also Washington als Schutzmacht von seinem Mündel Israel laut Spaemann verlangen? Nun, zuerst die übliche Litanei einseitiger Vorleistungen: Stopp des Siedlungsbaus und dann „Beseitigung“ aller bisher gebauten Siedlungen und Beendigung der „Besatzung fremden Territoriums“. Gut, über die Sinnfälligkeit und die Erfolgsaussicht solcher Maßnahmen kann man rational unter Israelfreunden diskutieren.

Aber Spaemann verlangt viel mehr, und gilt es, aufzuhorchen: „Ferner: Israel verzichtet auf die ethnische Selbstdefinition, die jeden Nichtjuden in diesem Staat zum Fremden macht.“ Anders gesagt. Der Judenstaat verschwindet. Besser könnte es die Hamas auch nicht formulieren.

Es ist schon bemerkenswert, was herauskommt, wenn „es“ aus führenden Katholiken wieder einmal spricht. Von Papst Benedikt wäre – gemäß dem „Grundgesetz von Schutz und Gehorsam“ eine klare Zurückweisung solcher Gedankenspiele zu verlangen.

Schließlich kann sich Robert Spaemann solche Kindereien in einer großen Zeitung nur leisten, weil man – zu Recht – davon ausgeht, aus seinem Munde das zu hören, was Benedikt klammheimlich denkt.


Alan Poseners Filmkritik über Inglourious Basterds

Alan Poseners neues Buch: Benedikts Kreuzzug – Der Angriff des Vatikans auf die moderne Gesellschaft

Die in HIRAM7 REVIEW veröffentlichten Essays und Kommentare geben nicht grundsätzlich den Standpunkt der Redaktion wieder.

Guest Editorial by Rabbi Benjamin Blech on Pope’s Visit to Israel

May 17, 2009

Our beloved friend and colleague Rabbi Benjamin Blech took time to serve as guest editor, commenting the Pope’s visit in Israel. In January 2005, Rabbi Blech became one of the first rabbis in history known to confer the priestly blessing on a Pope, when he visited the Pope John Paul II  in the Apostolic Palace.

My Encounter with the Pope

by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

New York, May 17, 2009


Was I wrong at that moment to believe it’s at last possible to cast off centuries of mistrust, misunderstanding and religious intolerance?

How does a rabbi feel when he meets the pope?

As a 10th-generation rabbi who has spent a lifetime teaching Torah to Jews, that’s something I thought was about as likely to happen to me as winning a gold medal at the Olympics. My world is the ivory tower of Jewish academia, not the Vatican. The people I’m used to seeing with yarmulkes on their heads are congregants, not cardinals. The holy city I most often visit isn’t Rome but Jerusalem.

But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and Divine providence put me together not just with one pope but with two.

Before I share with you the circumstances of these remarkable meetings, a little personal background is important. My parents came from Poland, and when I was a child they would tell me about their early lives there. On Christmas and Easter they knew they could not dare be out in the street. Their church-going neighbors would search for any of the Jewish “Christ killers” who their priest had impressed upon them in his sermon were guilty of killing their Lord. Anti-Semitic attacks were almost everyday occurrences, the expected price that Jews understood they had to pay for residence in a non-Jewish land. It’s sad to say but for Jews, Christians were the villains – because we were constantly victims.

If my parents ever wondered whether a time might come when this would all change, the Holocaust put an end to whatever optimism they dared to allow themselves. No, they concluded, and constantly reinforced in their admonitions to my siblings and to me. The rift between us and “them,” as they saw it, was unbridgeable. Only a fool, they never failed to tell us, would deny the lesson of so many centuries.

So in my mind, the pope became the general of an opposing army. Nothing personal, mind you, but surely sufficient to make me suspicious of any gesture on his part to improve our relationship.

It was with this mindset that I fortuitously became involved with a gentleman who had connections with the Vatican and offered to help when I informed him that there were many precious Jewish items in the hands of the church that we would love to bring back to their original owners. With his assistance and unbelievable good fortune we were invited to the Vatican Library to view some extremely precious manuscripts and initiate plans to bring some of them out on exhibit in Israel.

And then there was one more remarkable thing that happened. It explains what a nice Jewish septuagenarian like me was doing in the Apostolic Palace standing before the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics in the week before what proved to be his final illness.

Pope John Paul II was a different kind of pope. With all of my mistrust ingrained since my youth I had to attach significant meaning to the things I learnt about this spiritual leader of others who ironically enough was born in Poland, not far from my ancestors. I discovered that he was someone sensitive enough when he assumed the papacy to make one of his very first acts a visit to Auschwitz to in order express remorse at the fate of the 6 million victims.

More, he became the first pope since Saint Peter to visit a synagogue. He journeyed to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and left an inscribed message within one of its crevices asking for forgiveness for the sins Christianity committed against the Jews throughout the centuries. He denounced anti-Semitism as a “sin against God and humanity.” He normalized diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. He epitomized love, reconciliation and the healing of ancient wounds.

And because he had a profound feeling of affection for Jews, he made an amazing decision. Realizing his advanced age he made a personal and private request that was relayed to me. Pope John Paul II indicated that he would like to receive a blessing – a blessing from the spiritual leaders of the people who had for so long been the victims of its misplaced, virulent hatred. That is how I came to be a part of 150 rabbis and cantors who went to meet with the pope and fulfill his request.

At this historic moment three of us stepped forward to personally recite a blessing. It was then that I uttered the words recorded in the Talmud for a time when a Jew meets a great leader of the nations of the world: “We bless You O Lord for having granted of Your glory to Your creations.”

Was I wrong at that moment to believe it’s at last possible to cast off centuries of mistrust, misunderstanding and religious intolerance?

What went through my mind?

I heard the past speaking to me. I don’t know how it was possible for time to become so compressed that in those few moments, I could clearly make out so many conversations in my mind, all of them vying for my attention, all of them claiming my conviction. Some were filled with anger. Some were disbelieving. Some advised caution. Some were overcome with joyous emotion. All were battling for my agreement. It was simply too difficult for me to decide, too momentous a moment for me to come to any conclusion.

But with all the voices fighting to be heard within me one seemed most recognizable. I could swear that in the Vatican itself I heard my father, of blessed memory, whisper in my ear,” Perhaps. Perhaps.”

Not too long after that I was invited to be a member of the group that accompanied Pope Benedict, newly appointed after the death of John Paul II, when as one of the first acts of his papacy he too went to Auschwitz to pray, to request forgiveness, and to vow that civilized mankind would never again permit an atrocity of this horrendous magnitude to every again occur. I know that this pope is a German whose biography leaves us with some unanswered questions. I know that he has committed some serious errors of judgment in his response to Holocaust deniers within his own faith. And yet I saw him at Auschwitz. I heard his words. I spoke with him. I know that he, too, in his visit to New York last year chose to go to a synagogue to make clear his warm feelings towards Jews.

Pope Benedict was in Israel last week. He too has placed a prayer in the wall. He too has gone to the memorial for those who perished during the Holocaust. For some he didn’t say enough and he didn’t do enough. For others there is still the lingering and strong suspicion that he is the head of an organization that forever stands in opposition to our survival, at the very least theologically.

Only time will tell whether we may place our trust in the sincerity of these new gestures of friendship. But I would like to believe, seeing things with my own eyes that I know my parents and grandparents would never have deemed possible, that it is not too far-fetched and too naive to respond to these apparent attempts at reconciliation, with one word: “Perhaps. Perhaps.”

About the author: Rabbi Benjamin Blech,  is the author of 12 highly acclaimed books, including Understanding Judaism: The basics of Deed and Creed. He is a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and the Rabbi Emeritus of Young Israel of Oceanside (California) which he served for 37 years and from which he retired to pursue his interests in writing and lecturing around the globe. He is also the author of If God Is Good, Why Is The World So Bad?

Professorenpapst Joseph Ratzinger

May 16, 2009

In einem Kommentar erschienen in der heutigen Ausgabe der Frankfurter Rundschau erläutert Prof. Dr. Micha Brumlik, Mitherausgeber der Monatszeitschrift Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, warum der Papst-Besuch in Israel nicht wirklich von Erfolg gekrönt war.

“Diese Aufgaben auch nur halbwegs sinnvoll und erfolgreich miteinander zu verbinden, bedarf es authentischen religiösen Charismas, machiavellistischer Klugheit und eines auf Lebenserfahrung beruhenden und in Krisen gefestigten moralischen Urteils. Joseph Ratzinger verfügt über keine dieser Eigenschaften. Sein Leben ist … das eines sozialen Aufsteigers, der sich mit Fleiß und Intelligenz aus dem Kleine-Leute-Milieu seiner Eltern hochgearbeitet hat, persönlichkeitsbildende Freund- und Liebschaften weitgehend vermieden und sich entschlossen dem gewidmet hat, was Sicherheit verhieß: die als unumstößlich wahr angesehenen Dogmen jener Institution, in der allein er zu dem werden konnte, der er jetzt ist.”

Zum Artikel.

Joining Hands with the Pope in Nazareth

May 14, 2009

Rabbi David Rosen, American Jewish Committee (AJC) international director of interreligious affairs, joined with Pope Benedict XVI and a group of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Druze religious leaders in Nazareth, Israel, for an oecumenical meeting and to sing a song of peace.

“It illustrated dramatically that religion does not have to be the problem but the solution and that it is up to politicians to engage religious leaders in the search for peace,” Rabbi David Rosen said.

Pope Benedict’s Historic Visit to Israel

May 14, 2009


Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Israel is a historic and positive step forward for Vatican-Israel relations and the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. This important trip reaffirms Pope Benedict’s commitment to continue to strengthen relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel, begun under his predecessor Pope John Paul II

Benedict XVI’s visit – nine years since the last one by Pope John Paul II – is being hailed both as a reconfirmation of the Vatican’s commitment to meaningful and respectful dialogue and relations with the Jewish people, but also as a missed opportunity to deliver more unambiguous and emotive messages of a German pope’s remorse for the church’s past persecution of Jews. The Pope was criticized by some leaders in Holocaust remembrance, other commentators and Holocaust survivors for not having cited at Yad Vashem the number “six million,” for having used the term “killed” instead of “murdered,” and for not having specifically affirmed remorse for Germans’ or Christians’ actions.

In a op-ed published in the newspaper Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Abraham Foxman explains the true meaning of Pope’s visit to Israel.


The Importance of the Pope’s Visit to Israel

by Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)


When his plane touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport, Pope Benedict XVI became only the second pope in the history of the Catholic Church to officially visit the State of Israel.

Israeli, Jewish and Vatican leaders expressed high hopes for a smooth visit that would enhance the Catholic-Jewish and Israel-Vatican relationships.

Yet almost from the minute he got off the plane, Benedict’s actions and words have been severely scrutinized, dissected and criticized from all sides. This extraordinary level of public and media scrutiny has led to a series of controversies, expressions of dismay and failed expectations by some Israeli leaders.

It must be recognized that Benedict is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, the beloved Pope John Paul II, whose groundbreaking pilgrimage in March 2000 hit all the right notes and captured the hearts and minds of Jews and Catholics around the world. From the get-go it was always going to be unfair to measure Benedict’s trip by John Paul’s, especially since Benedict has stepped into a roiling political, religious and social climate that is vastly changed from the more hopeful regional environment just nine years ago.

It is not only the region that is different. The two popes have vastly different personalities and public personas. Where the Polish-born John Paul II was a grand communicator able to project his charm and personal story to a wide audience, Benedict, a native of Germany, is a reserved theologian who conveys a professorial tone.

Beyond style, there are the words themselves. In this there is room for debate.

Prominent officials have sharply criticized Benedict’s much-anticipated speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for failing to live up to expectations.

When Pope John Paul II visited Yad Vashem he referenced the Nazis by name, condemned the murder of millions of victims and mourned the loss of his Jewish friends.  He met at length with 30 Polish Jewish survivors.

By contrast, Benedict failed to mention Nazis or Germany, as well as his own personal history in Germany during the war. He did not use the word murder and ignored the issue of Christian responsibility for the Holocaust. A historic opportunity was squandered.

Yet a close examination of Benedict’s text and actions shows that he did deliver an appropriate speech focusing on the concepts of remembrance. He also met briefly with Holocaust survivors. It must be noted also that in recent months, Benedict has made strong statements repudiating Holocaust denial.  And in the past, Benedict has talked about his personal experiences as a member of Hitler Youth and the Germany Army.

Therefore, it would do us well to keep things in perspective and recognize what this pope has said and done.

By coming to Israel at this time, the 82-year-old pontiff is solidifying the Vatican’s formal relationship with the State of Israel, launched when a historic diplomatic agreement was signed in 1993. His trip demonstrates the Church’s commitment to the security and survival of Israel as a Jewish state.

Benedict is also establishing a track record for future popes. No longer will Pope John Paul’s journey be able to be portrayed as an aberration or a personal mission. Indeed, Benedict’s trip will institutionalize that every pope visit Israel and commit the billion-member Roman Catholic Church to the importance of Israel as the Jewish state.

Benedict’s voyage also demonstrates the continuity of the Church’s commitment to enhance relations with the Jewish people. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was Pope John Paul’s chief theologian and, therefore, the many positive improvements in Jewish-Catholic relations over the past three decades were done in consultation with him.

To be sure, there are a series of outstanding serious issues challenging the Vatican-Jewish dialogue, including the recent troubling regressions in Catholic theology and liturgy about Judaism. Israel and the Vatican also have complicated property and tax issues to resolve.

However, the focus on this trip should be in recognizing the positive contributions of the current pope. Benedict has pledged to keep strengthening Catholic-Jewish relations and reaffirmed the Church’s unqualified repudiation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. He has taught that Christians should gain a new respect for the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. And he has asserted that God’s Covenant and promises to the people of Israel are alive and irrevocable, further demonstrating his belief that the Jewish people “are beloved brothers and sisters.”

While we believe that Jews must remember and honor the past, we cannot change it. What we can do is create a future where Catholics and Jews deepen and expand our dialogue and work together with mutual respect and understanding in the interests of tikkun olam (i.e. Restoration of the World).


About the author: Born in Poland in 1940, Abraham Foxman was saved from the Holocaust as an infant by his Polish Catholic nanny who baptized and raised him as a Catholic during the war years. His parents survived the war, but 14 members of his family were lost.

After he arrived in America in 1950 with his parents, Mr. Foxman graduated from the Yeshiva of Flatbush, in Brooklyn, NY, and earned his B.A. in political science from the City College of the City University of New York, graduating with honors in history. Mr. Foxman holds a law degree from New York University School of Law, and did graduate work in Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary and in international economics at New York’s New School for Social Research.

On October 16, 2006  Foxman was awarded as Knight of the Legion of Honor by Jacques Chirac, the President of France at the time. This award is France’s highest civilian honor.

Abraham Foxman is also author of the bestseller The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.

Pope Benedict XVI under pressure

February 2, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI is under increasing pressure following his decision to revoke the excommunication of several leaders of the ultra-conservative Society of Pius X, among them a Holocaust denier.

Several Catholic bishops expressed their unease over Benedict’s decision ten days ago to allow back in Richard Williamson and others into the Catholic Church. Williamson recently denied that the Holocaust occurred and said that Nazi Germany had never used gas chambers.

Israel’s minister for religious affairs, Yitzhak Cohen, has threatened to suspend relations with the Vatican, the German news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ reports. Cohen said he recommended “completely cutting off connections to a body in which Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites are members.” The Chief Rabbinate of Israel last week broke off official ties with the Vatican to protest the Pope’s decision.

British-born Richard Williamson is one of four bishops who are members of the Society of Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic order, whose excommunication was lifted a week ago. Williamson, who now lives in Argentina, had claimed in a television interview that 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”. Williamson was excommunicated 20 years ago after being ordained a bishop by the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent.

The Vatican said it had been unaware of Williamson’s views on the Holocaust when the decision was made to readmit the group, and the Pope quickly distanced himself from the comments and expressed “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews. However, condemnation from Jewish groups was widespread.

Vatican Launches YouTube Channel: For Unto Us A Pope Is Born!

January 25, 2009

The Vatican said that with a new YouTube channel, it hoped to broaden the pope’s audience – around 1.4 billion people are online worldwide – while giving the Holy See better control over the pope’s Internet image.

New York Times Blog on Papal Visit

April 16, 2008

Rabbi A. James Rudin, American Jewish Committee (AJC) senior advisor on interreligious affairs, is blogging for the New York Times during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States.

The New York Times invited Rabbi A. James Rudin as the only Jewish organizational representative to join with several other bloggers, including New York Times chief religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein, in providing analysis of Benedict’s papacy and his visit to the United States.

Read full story.

Italiens Nationalheiliger Padre Pio oder der Gestank der Schwindelei

October 30, 2007

Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung berichtet von der Empörung unter Italiens Katholiken und Devotionalien-Händlern.

Grund dafür ist ein Buch des Historikers Sergio Luzzatto über Padre Pio, das unveröffentlichte Quellen aus dem Vatikan zitiert, nach denen der Kapuzinerpater “bei einem lokalen Apotheker große Mengen von Karbolsäure kaufte, vielleicht um durch Verätzung der Hände dem Wunder ein wenig nachzuhelfen. Der Apotheker wandte sich vertraulich an den örtlichen Bischof; der schrieb 1920 an den entsetzten Papst Benedikt XV., doch die Briefe schwiegen bis vor kurzem in den Archiven des Heiligen Offiziums. Padre Pio ist in Italien ein derart beliebter Heiliger, dass solch böse Fakten nicht ohne Widerspruch bleiben. Vor allem die rechtskonservativen Medien protestieren gegen diese ‘Verleumdung’, und im Dickicht der Leser-Blogs werden auch antisemitische Töne laut, wie etwa in der Online-Ausgabe des Berlusconi-Blattes Il Giornale, wo in Anspielung auf die persönliche Herkunft Sergio Luzzattos von einem ‘jüdisch-freimaurerischen Komplott’ die Rede ist.”

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