Jewish leaders are falling all over themselves to find a silver lining in Cardinal Ratzinger’s ascension to the papacy. But I just don’t see it. As a teenager, he was a member of Hitler Youth. As a cardinal he’s written recently about his hopes for the the Jewish people "saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus." What’s auspicious about any of this? Here’s a sampling of upbeat statements from such leaders:
"Though as a teenager he was a member of the Hitler Youth, all his life Cardinal Ratzinger has atoned for the fact," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"There are good relations with him," Oded Ben-Hor, Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican, told Army Radio. "Israel can certainly coexist with him. But the real test will come over the course of time."
Middle East News reports Chief Rabbi Meir Lau’s views of the new pope:
Lau – a Holocaust survivor and a former chief rabbi for Israeli Jews of European backgrounds – said his many meetings with Benedict while he was a cardinal have convinced him of his good record on matters of concern to Israelis.
"(The last meeting) was last year, in New York, in the Museum of Jewish Heritage of all places," Lau told Israel Army Radio. "There was a meeting of two or three rabbis with some 20 cardinals …. His entire speech was given over to a condemnation of anti-Semitism, in the strongest and most unambiguous terms."
Jewish Telegraphic Agency states breezily:
Jewish observers of the Vatican say world Jewry can breathe easy knowing that German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was chosen as the 265th pope.
“As far as Jewish people are concerned, Cardinal Ratzinger is a friend,” said Gary Krupp, president and founder of the Pave the Way Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit organization that promotes religious understanding. “He is going to be as effective, if not more, than John Paul II” in furthering Catholic-Jewish relations.
What seems to be completely lacking in all these statements is the understanding that for a religious figure like Benedict–no matter how strong his condemnations of anti-Semitism–to still maintain, at this late date in history, that the Church continues to hold out for a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity, is abominable. To wish for the disappearance of the Jewish people is a form of anti-Semitism. We Jews hate it when evangelicals spout such nonsense. Why should we be any more forgiving of a pope who does the same? Those of us who’ve studied something of the history of anti-Semitism remember that the Crusades and the Inquisition were instigated in whole or in part as a means to compel Jews to accept Christ. The article outlines Ratzinger’s views on this subject:
In his book, God and the World, published in 2000, Ratzinger said:
"That the Jews are connected with God in a special way and that God does not want that bond to fail is entirely obvious," he wrote. "We wait for the instant in which Israel will say ‘yes’ to Christ, but we know that it has a special mission in history now … which is significant for the world."
This statement would lead one to believe that in Ratzinger’s eyes, God’s "special way" with the Jewish people and its "special mission in history" consist solely of its eventually "coming to Jesus." In addition, one must remember the new pope’s stern admonition to Catholics never to forget that there is so such thing as equality among the world’s religion. Catholicism has primacy and all others are relegated to secondary status, if that. In other words, as Rabbi Jack Bemporad put it in the JTA article, Ratzinger rejects "religious pluralism."
Yediot Achronot (YNET) quotes from the same book:
"Our Christian conviction is that Christ is also the messiah of Israel. Certainly it is in the hands of God how and when the unification of Jews and Christians into the people of God will take place."
Ah, so I’m to feel good about the fact that Ratzinger doesn’t believe in the forcible human conversion of Jews to Christ. He’s happy to leave the timing up to God. Did it ever occur to him that since Judaism is the oldest surviving monotheist religion that perhaps at the End of Time all religions will return to their origins in Judaism? So maybe the conversion will all go the other way, Your Holiness. Maybe it’s you who will be kissing the Chief Rabbi’s ring rather than the other way around. Ever stop to think about that?
To me, Ratzinger as pope means same old, same old as far as Jewish-Catholic relations. Let’s face it, Catholics have hunted and persecuted us over the ages. In the past decades, relations have improved somewhat. At least now they don’t want to kill us. But I’m holding out for a Christianity (and a pope) that will accept Jews and Judaism in a way that allows both to survive and even thrive throughout the ages to come. In other words, no proselytizing, or to allude to Philip Roth’s wonderful story, no "conversion of the Jews." Wouldn’t that be, as the new pope might say, a blessed miracle?