Pope Benedict, Shalom Aleichem!

pope mobileSo in case you haven’t heard about it, the Pope is coming to DC this week. The relationship of the Jewish community to the Holy Father, even in the best of times, is how shall we put it, fraught with mixed emotions. And like so much else with Benedict, the prior Pope casts a long shadow, mostly because he moved Catholic–Jewish relations forward tremendously; but also because the young Karol Józef Wojtyła was personally responsible for the rescue of Jews in Krakow during World War II. Young Joseph Ratzinger, though from an anti-Nazi family, was a reluctant member of the Nazi youth, and while his passive resistance to enabling the Nazi regime and ultimate desertion of his military post were certainly brave and noble, they lack the drama of his predecessor’s narrative.

And to his credit, this pope has done and said all the right things to demonstrate his goodwill towards the Jewish people. But just as he personally embodies contradictions, he also must also contend with the contradictions with which any world religion must encounter the rest of the world. However, the certitude of the Catholic faith is freighted with a weight of history that makes its declarations of being the “one true faith” seem more menacing than when Jews recite as part of our liturgy, “unto you every knee must bend, every tongue vow loyalty.” And the history of Jews and Catholics is so intertwined, that even a a relatively benign decision such as a Papal decree making it easier to celebrate the Tridentine Mass engenders controversy because of its calls to convert Jews in its Good Friday liturgy. No one reasonably expects that these masses will engender mass violence against Jews as they have in past times, but to not oppose them on principle also feels like a betrayal of those predecessors who were the victims of such violence.

But putting all that aside for the moment, welcome to Washington, Pope Benedict. We hope you like our new stadium, and that the traffic is a little easier for you than for the rest of us. We’re sorry if that whole bobble head thing didn’t quite work out they way we hoped it would–trust us, it was meant as a sign of affection.

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