Insulting Judaism? In defense of the Pope – opinion

Our rabbis would be far better off if they took their minds off Rome and looked to Jerusalem, where Hebrew-speaking messianic Christians have been making surprising and rapid inroads into the Jewish community.

By Ellen Horowitz,

Please excuse my irreverence as I add an addition to the end of a famous Midrash [rabbinic literature]: “Among the creatures created at the beginning of time at twilight : the ram of Abraham, the mouth of Bilaam’s donkey, the fish that swallowed Yonah, the stone-cutting Shamir, and … the elephant in the room.”

It was a bizarre month-long episode that started last August when the Chief Rabbinate of Israel decided that they didn’t like the Pope’s theological take on Christian scripture, delivered in a catechism addressed to a papal audience at the Vatican. Come Yom Kippur, the interfaith squabble was still making international headlines.

Now I imagine Israelis, who bother to care about interfaith matters, were caught somewhere between being annoyed, amused and bemused by a fumbling rabbinate protesting the Pope’s preaching on Paul. It was a truly WTF moment as the world community watched a representative of the rabbinate attempt to clamor over the invisible, yet stalwart and ageless, pachyderm who safeguards the sacred border between faiths.  All the while, my guts were prayerfully shrieking, “God, save the elephant in the room!”

missionary cartoon

(Artwork by Elisheva Horowitz courtesy VisionMag)

It wasn’t that long ago when a primary rule of dinner party etiquette, in a mixed crowd, was to avoid discussions about politics, religion, or sex. How boring you say? I mean how much can one expound on the weather and local sports scene?  I would suggest that slapping those limitations on “taboo” subjects gave rise to the kind of inspiring conversations which led to redemptive solutions for the world. I’ll allow Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z”l to expound:

“We would deem it improper to enter into dialogues on such topics as: I. Judaic monotheism and the Christian idea of trinity; 2. The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Christianity; 3. The Jewish attitude on Jesus; 4. The concept of the Covenant in Judaism and Christianity. There cannot be mutual understanding concerning these topics, for Jew and Christian will employ different categories and move within incommensurate frames of reference and evaluation.

“When, however, we move from the private world of faith to the public world of humanitarian and cultural endeavors, communication among the various faith communities is desirable and even essential. We are ready to enter into dialogue on such topics as war and peace, poverty, freedom, man’s moral values, the threat of secularism, technology and human values, civil rights, etc., which revolve about religious spiritual aspects of our civilization. Discussion within these areas will, of course, be within the framework of our religious outlooks and terminology.”

He added that “in the areas of universal concern we welcome an exchange of ideas and impressions. Communications among the various communities will greatly contribute towards mutual understanding and will enhance and deepen our knowledge of these universal aspects of man which are relevant to all of us.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s remarks and directives were delivered to 500 rabbis at the annual conference of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) in January of 1966. Now that would be post-Vatican II/Nostra Aetate, and yet Soloveitchik’s drawing of red lines did not spearhead a stampede of javeline-throwing Bishops. The elephant remained unscathed and intact. In fact, not long ago, this writer was told that Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik’s masterful writings and speeches on Jewish-Christian relations and boundaries are still being studied in Divinity schools.

Coming to terms with rebirth of Israel

That Church doctrine and attitudes towards Jews and Judaism are being explored and re-examined by Christian leaders and scholars across denominations is not a bad thing. Yes, there’s a back and forth, and at times a seeming regression. But that’s part and parcel  of Christianity’s therapeutic struggle to evolve and come to terms with the re-birth of Israel and to determine where and if they fit in.

What’s extremely abnormal and dangerous, however, is for rabbis to attempt to play the role of theo-therapists for the Christian world.  Does Israel’s rabbinic establishment really want to toy with evangelicalism, dominionism, triumphalism, exclusivism and yes, supersessionsim?  Opening that Pandora’s box is the stuff anti-Semitism is made of. Do we really wanna go there? But it seems we already have.

Makes sense, but lost somewhere in the narrow and astonishing void between anti-Semitism, philo-Semitism, and emerging evangelical “Christian Zionism,” some overly anxious Israeli and Diaspora rabbis and community leaders  declared a “sea change” in Jewish-Christian relations and proclaimed a new interfaith dawn. Respect for differences quickly gave way to a frantic search for interfaith “Judeo-Christian commonality”. The walls came tumbling down, and with it collapsed the integrity, truth and separateness that enables us Jews to fully engage in the world while fulfilling our obligations as a unique people. Suffice to say that the elephant in the room is not happy.

A tsunami of missionary madness has ensued in the Jewish state and yes, we Jews are trading favors with evangelizing Christians on sacred principles as if they are shmattes in the shuk (“Give me some of your Pesach and Succot and a bunch of  those prayer shawls and I’ll give you a leather-bound Hebrew translation of the ‘new testament’ and I’ll even throw in a gift basket for your lone soldiers and a donation for the soup kitchen serving Holocaust survivors. And it’s all in the name of Rabbi Jesus.”)

Kisses more dangerous than bites

Our rabbis would be far better off if they took their minds off Rome and looked to Jerusalem, where Hebrew-speaking messianic Christians have been making surprising and rapid inroads into the Jewish community and in the “end times” race to win Jewish souls. And yes, the methods of “confusion and seduction”  currently being employed in the effort to “prevent Jews from being Jews” should be considered and included in any contemporary definition of anti-Semitism

Biblically speaking, our sages were often of the opinion that kisses can be more dangerous than bites. So, rabbis… be careful where you tread and, whatever you do, don’t trample the elephant!