Holy Mother Church’s appeal for purification of memory is part of the larger Jubilee movement toward solidarity between Jews and Catholics. This article, addressed to Catholics who dialogue with Jews, explores some practical steps along our pilgrim journey from memory to reconciliation. It concludes that the accelerating pace of salvation history may leave open the present window of opportunity for only a short time.
The Catholic Church Remembers Her Heritage
In December 1999, the Vatican published Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past, a 50-page statement of theology showing that the Church as the Body of Christ remains unblemished despite the sins and errors of her members. Memory and Reconciliation also calls upon Catholics to learn from these past errors, so as to clarify and purify their understanding of the faith and the mystery of the Church. It explains the appeal to God for pardon that St. John Paul II made on March 12, 2000. Concerning Christians and Jews, Memory and Reconciliation1 said
The relationship between Christians and Jews is one of the areas requiring a special examination of conscience.2
The Church’s relationship to the Jewish people is unlike the one she shares with any other religion.3
Nevertheless, the history of the relations between Jews and Christians is a tormented one. In effect, the balance of these relations over two thousand years has been quite negative.4
The hostility or diffidence of numerous Christians toward Jews in the course of time is a sad historical fact and is the cause of profound remorse for Christians aware of the fact that Jesus was a descendent of David; that the Virgin Mary and the Apostles belonged to the Jewish people; that the Church draws sustenance from the root of that good olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles (cf. Rom 11:17-24); that the Jews are our dearly beloved brothers, indeed in a certain sense they are our elder brothers.5
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994, also emphasizes the Church’s origins in Judaism.
§ 839 “When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the people of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, the first to hear the Word of God. The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”6
Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, published by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965, § 4, shows that the Church has consistently acknowledged its origins in Judaism.
Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ — Abraham’s sons according to faith — are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.”7
In these three documents the Church, speaking in her own voice, expresses her profound regret for the faults of the past.
[More recent: The Holocaust]
The Shoah in particular has been much on the Church’s mind. Memory and Reconciliation recognized that the Nazis who organized and ran the death camps and the trains that day after day carried their human cargo bore full moral responsibility, but also faced squarely the complicity of Western Christians. § 5.4 continued,
“The Shoah was certainly the result of the pagan ideology that was Nazism, a pagan ideology animated by a merciless anti-Semitism that not only despised the faith of the Jewish people, but also denied their very human dignity. Nevertheless, it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts. … Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to the persecuted Jews?”8
“There is no doubt that there were many Christians who risked their lives to save and to help their Jewish neighbors. It seems, however, also true that alongside such courageous men and women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ’s followers.”9
This fact constitutes a call to the consciences of all Christians today, so as to require an act of repentance (t’shuva),10
and to be a stimulus to increase efforts to be transformed by renewal of your mind (Rom 12:2), as well as to keep a “moral and religious memory” of the injury inflicted on the Jews. In this area, much has already been done, but this should be confirmed and deepened.”
On March 16, 1998, the Vatican published We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. Written by Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, it addressed the same truth in memory in Part IV. Nazi anti-Semitism and the Shoah.
“At first the leaders of the Third Reich sought to expel the Jews. Unfortunately, the governments of some Western countries of Christian tradition, including some in North and South America, were more than hesitant to open their borders to the persecuted Jews. Although they could not foresee how far the Nazi hierarchs would go in their criminal intentions, the leaders of those nations were aware of the hardships and dangers to which Jews living in the territories of the Third Reich were exposed. The closing of borders to Jewish emigration in those circumstances, whether due to anti-Jewish hostility or suspicion, political cowardice or shortsightedness, or national selfishness, lays a heavy burden of conscience on the authorities in question.”11
Cardinal Cassidy also quoted St. John Paul II’s address to Jewish leaders in Strasbourg in 1988. “I repeat again with you the strongest condemnation of anti-Semitism and racism, which are opposed to the principles of Christianity.”
Several prominent Jews were receptive. Richard Goldstein wrote,
“The pain of Christian history is still with us, but so is the prospect of transformation.”12
But the overall Jewish response can be fairly summarized: “He should have done more.” Many Jewish organizations objected that Pope Pius XII did not “name names.” The charge shows a need for better understanding. The Church Militant holds as its mission the salvation of every human soul in the world. It cannot deem expendable even the darkest soul. When the Church condemns a particular individual he is likely to see the Church as his enemy and be less inclined to come home and find salvation. Therefore, whenever possible, the Church speaks of principles rather than persons.
Pius XII and the Jews
The Pope and the War
Let us revisit wartime Germany. The Nazi high command knew that the Catholic Church was its mortal enemy. The SS would not admit any Catholic unless he had repudiated the Church.13 Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels issued pamphlets in many languages describing Pius XII as a “pro-Jewish Pope.”14 On Sunday, July 26, 1942, a protest by the Catholic Bishops of Holland against the Nazi deportation of Dutch Jews was read at every Mass in all churches. It said, “In this we are following the path indicated by our Holy Father, the Pope.”15 One week later, the Gestapo arrested, deported, and sent to Auschwitz all Dutch Catholics of Jewish origin. Gestapo General-Commissar Schmidt announced, “We are compelled to regard the Catholic Jews as our worst enemies and consequently see to their deportation to the East with all possible speed.” St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross gave her life for that protest. The Nazis’ savage reaction to the Dutch Bishops’ protest vividly indicated to Pius XII how much more they would react to a Pope’s protest. Evidently, other approaches were necessary. Pius XII sent a coded message calling all Catholics to help the Jews in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi of June 29, 1943: § 96: “True love of the Church, therefore, requires … that we should recognize in other men, although they are not yet joined to us in the Body of the Church, our brothers in Christ according to the flesh, called, together with us, to the same eternal salvation.”16 Catholics recognized the unmistakable reference to St. Paul’s, “…of [the Jewish] race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” Rom 9:5.
The Jewish View During the 1940s
Let us now revisit what the most prominent and best informed Jews said at that time, when memories were fresh and everyone knew what was happening. The New York Times editorial of March 14, 1940, headlined, “Pope is Emphatic About Peace: Jews’ Rights Defended,” said, “Twice in two days Pope Pius XII has gone out of his way to speak out for justice as well as for peace, and Vatican circles take this as an emphasis of his stern demand to Joachim von Ribbentrop, that Germany right the injustice she has done before there can be peace … the Pontiff, in the burning words he spoke to Herr von Ribbentrop about religious persecution, also came to the defense of the Jews.”
Time magazine’s December 23, 1940, cover caption, said, “In Germany only the cross has not bowed to the swastika.” The same cover story quoted the great Jewish physicist Albert Einstein:
“Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom. But they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I had never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration, because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess, that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly.”17
The New York Times editorially lauded Pius XII on December 25, 1941: “The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas … He is about the only ruler left on the Continent who dares to raise his voice at all.” The New York Times editorial of December 25, 1942 added: “This Christmas more than ever the Pope is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent … Pope Pius XII expresses as passionately as any leader on our side the war aims of the struggle for freedom.18
There were many more reports. A New York Times headline on August 6, 1942, stated, “Pope is Said to Plead for Jews Listed for Removal from France,” and on August 27, 1942: “Vichy Seizes Jews; Pope Pius Ignored.”
The Jewish View During the 1950s
Who can retell the things that befell us, who can count them? The historical record is filled with testimony from responsible Jews of the time. Joseph Lichten, director, B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League International Affairs Department, wrote, “What cannot be questioned is the integrity, the charity, and the deep commitment to humanity of Pius XII. It is idle to speculate about what more he could have done, for unlike most of the leaders of his day, he did very much.”19 Jewish historian Jenö Levai testified at the Eichmann trial in 1964 that Pius XII had done all he could to save Jews,20 and titled his 1966 book The Church Did Not Keep Silent.21 At the death of Pius XII, Golda Meir, then Israel’s Foreign Minister, cabled the Vatican, “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict.” Dr. Isaac Herzog, then Chief Rabbi of Israel, cabled, “The death of Pope Pius XII is the loss of a great man to the world at large. Catholics are not alone in lamenting his passing.”22
Pinchas Lapide, an observant Jew and a senior Israeli government historian with access to the archives of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Institute, wrote in Three Popes and the Jews, 1967, “The final number of Jewish lives in whose rescue the Catholic Church had been instrumental is thus at least 700,000 souls, but in all probability is much closer to the maximum of 860,000 … These figures … exceed by far those saved by all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations combined.”23 He added, “[Pius XII] … alleviated, relieved, retrieved, appealed, petitioned – and saved as best he could … Who but a prophet or martyr could have done much more?”24
The War Against the Pope
Most historians have been discreet when discussing what American Jews had done to rescue European Jews. The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada established the Vaad-ha-Hatzalah (Rescue Committee) to save as many as possible. Most American Jews remained quiet during the Shoah. The Vaad at least tried to stir up support for the desperate European Jews; in October 1943 it brought four hundred Orthodox rabbis in for a highly visible protest in Washington, DC. Non-Orthodox Jewish leaders like Rabbi Stephen Wise and political leaders including Franklin Roosevelt treated the Vaad with near-contempt, as if it had embarrassed them. In the end, the Vaad rescued from the Nazis at most 1,500 Jews, primarily through bribery and negotiation. That makes all the more startling what happened next.
Twenty years after this broad consensus, Jews suddenly began to condemn Pius XII. In 1963 Rolf Hochhuth charged that Pius XII did not speak out, citing a 1943 telegram from the German ambassador to the Holy See, Baron Ernst Von Weizsaecker, to Berlin: “Although under pressure from all sides, the pope has not let himself be drawn into any demonstrative censure of the deportation of Jews from Rome … As there is probably no reason to expect other German actions against the Jews of Rome we can consider that a question so disturbing to German-Vatican relations has been liquidated.” Von Weizsaecker’s telegram was broadcast all over the world and repeated in book after book, completely wrenched from context. Von Weizsaecker’s telegram was in fact a recommendation not to proceed with the proposed deportation of the Roman Jews, backed by a warning to Hitler from Pius XII: if the pursuit and arrest of Roman Jews was not halted, the Holy Father would have to make a public protest. This careful diplomacy by Von Weizsaecker and Pius XII ended the Nazi manhunt against the Jews of Rome, saving an estimated 7,000 lives.
When it became obvious that Hochhuth’s charge was a canard the emphasis shifted. The New York Times summarized the current complaint: “He did not encourage Catholics to defy Nazi orders.”25
What if he had? Lapide answers: “Whilst the Catholic clergy of Holland protested more loudly, expressly and frequently against Jewish persecutions than the religious hierarchy of any other Nazi-occupied country, more Jews — some 110,000 or 79 percent of the total — were deported from Holland to death camps; more than anywhere else in the West.”26 British church historian Owen Chadwick adds, “Take the two contiguous German dioceses of Bishops Galen and Berning. We revere Galen for his courage and have no use for Berning because of his silence. But many more priests in Galen’s diocese ended in concentration camps than those from Berning’s.”27 If Pius XII had gone beyond protest to inciting insurrection, the Vatican would have been invaded and destroyed.
Hitler had openly threatened invasion. “On September 13, 1943, the Governor of Vatican City received a phone call from the Military Commander of Rome informing him that at 4 p.m. on the same day German sentries would be posted at the Vatican-Italian boundary line. At the appointed hour, Nazi paratroopers appeared in full battle dress, with helmets and machine guns and took up ‘protective patrol’.”28 A few days later, “Incoming and outgoing postal facilities were cut off from Vatican City; telephone trunk lines passing into Rome were tapped …”29 Lapide comments: “Undaunted by these measures, the smallest state on earth went on quietly defying the military masters of Continental Europe.”30
Pope Pius XII’s highest responsibility as head of the Catholic Church was to preserve and protect it amid the wild winds of war. The “defy Nazi orders” charge suggests that Pius XII should have put Jewish interests above Catholic interests. Until Jews ask their rabbis to put the interests of the Catholic Church above Jewish interests they cannot expect the head of the Catholic Church to put Jewish interests above Catholic interests.
Two-thirds of all the Jews in Europe perished in the Shoah. It will remain part of Jewish religious history until the end of time. The strenuous effort among liberal Jews to alter history, making Pope Pius XII appear aloof during Judaism’s great hour of tragedy, is consistent with a larger effort to oppose Christian influence.
The Jewish War Against Christian Religious Activity
The Jewish effort to suppress Christian influence was due partly to Christian anti-Judaism and partly to Jewish liberalism.
The Liberals Assimilate
During the 1850s and 1860s a great wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States from Central and Eastern Europe, particularly from Germany. In escaping from discrimination, they also escaped from the traditional Jewish communities governed by Orthodox authorities in which they had lived. Once here, they sought what they could not find in Europe: true civil equality for a modern Judaism that emphasized social equality as opposed to religious observance. Having experienced centuries of persecution in Christian countries, these Jews felt that it would be safer to assimilate as quickly as possible. They abandoned German for English and tried to eliminate language, dress, or manners that might set them apart from Christians.
In deeply Christian nineteenth century America, many Jews found it difficult to maintain their sense of identity as Jews. Christmas and Easter were work holidays; Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were not. Jews who closed their shops on Saturday still had to close them on Sunday. The King James Bible, often the New Testament, was read in schools. Even in situations where the government kept hands off, Christian culture prevailed; during the Christmas season Jewish children would ask their parents why they weren’t celebrating and exchanging gifts. The Constitution guaranteed government neutrality in religious matters but Eastern European Jews, recalling earlier Christian persecution and seeing waves of Catholics immigrating from Ireland and Germany, were not convinced that a Christian government would remain neutral. Christianity was to be suppressed at every opportunity. The Jewish immigrants decided that they could survive as Jews only by insisting that government not support religion at all.
The Orthodox Meet Resistance
Orthodox Jews came to the United States during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. Jewish communities came into being in which everyone had a distinctively foreign appearance and spoke Yiddish. With them came millions of poor Jews from Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe, my grandparents among them. They came in past the Statue of Liberty to immigrate at Ellis Island. Once in, many remained in New York City. By the end of World War I, four million Jews lived in the United States.
Many Christians bitterly resented these foreigners; anti-Judaism was rampant. The Georgia mob that lynched Leo Frank in 1915 reminded Jews that, even in America, Christians could kill Jews. The newcomers quickly became convinced that the German Reform Jews had been correct in their analysis. Jews could be safe only by eliminating Christianity from public life. They assimilated as quickly as possible. Most of the Jewish immigrants had come from rigorously Orthodox families. However, like Tevye, they knew the traditions but not always why they were traditions. In Europe social pressure had required that they perform the rituals, but in New York the pressure was to abandon them. Many tried to remain strictly kosher in their homes but they had families to feed. When their employers required that they work on Saturday, they did.
The Plan for War
Jewish leaders continued to consider what public policies would best protect American Jews. Christian clergy and laity repeatedly tried during the 1920s to pass a constitutional amendment that would end religious neutrality and officially declare America a Christian nation. Orthodox Jews tried to insist that the Jews who constituted four percent of the population be treated equally with the Christians who constituted 96 percent of the population, but they were far outnumbered by Reform Jews who saw the Christian state amendment as a way to relegate Judaism permanently to inferior status. Reform Jews became suspicious of many other Christian initiatives and continued to believe that security for Jews in America rested on a secular view of the Constitution.
Reflecting the principles of the Enlightenment, liberty and equality, Reform Jews concluded that a secular society would promote tolerance and justice, and be true to America’s founding principles. The nation’s charter was the Declaration of Independence with its firm reliance on divine providence, but the government’s charter was the Constitution, which Jews regarded as secular. They began to envision replacing reliance on God with reliance on secular government. Lawyers such as Louis Brandeis, the first Jew to serve on the Supreme Court, and Louis Marshall, then president of the American Jewish Committee, arguing that the ethical principles of the Torah were consistent with the ethical principles enshrined in the Constitution, had already begun to define Judaism in terms of American constitutional principles.
So how does a four percent minority prevail? By transforming the Supreme Court from the limited referee described in Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist #80 into a social policy hammer. Once again the sins of Christians opened the way. At that time prejudice against Jews in industry was rampant. Bright young Jews flocked to the few professions in which they could find entry, especially law and teaching. Jewish legal excellence soon became legendary. The remarkable concentration of highly talented Jews in the field of law, the emerging Jewish consensus on suppressing religious activity, and the path of Supreme Court jurisdiction created a juridical force majeure.
The War Heats Up
[More recent: Justice Black Decides]
The Supreme Court, deciding Everson v. Board of Education (1947), interpreted the First Amendment, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Plainly, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise” means the federal government lacks authority to restrict religious activity in any place. Justice Hugo Black, however, asserted that Thomas Jefferson intended those words to require a “wall of separation between church and state.”
Justice Black was well aware of the tall redheaded Jefferson’s ability to articulate his views. John F. Kennedy once regaled a group of Nobel Prize winners at the White House with the remark, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of human knowledge that has been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” In 1776 Jefferson penned the words of the Declaration of Independence, which contained these crucial phrases, “…the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God … Endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights … Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions … With a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence.” On April 30, 1802, President Jefferson signed the Enabling Act for Ohio, extending the Northwest Ordinance, which stated in Article III: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, school and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.” On December 3, 1803, President Jefferson approved a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians which included payment from the federal treasury of $100 per year to support a Catholic missionary priest. Similar treaties were made in 1806 and 1807 with the Wyandotte and Cherokee tribes. President Thomas Jefferson extended three times a 1787 act of Congress in which special lands were designated: “For the sole use of Christian Indians and the Moravian Brethren missionaries for civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity.”
Justice Black bypassed the framers’ extensive record of public policy to focus instead on a single private letter of courtesy. A letter of courtesy is what we get when we write our congressman. The Danbury Baptist Association had written to President Thomas Jefferson on October 7, 1801, to express its concern about religious liberty in the new nation. President Jefferson on January 1, 1802 sent a bland three-paragraph reply which contained the words, “…thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
Lawyers knew what was going on, both those who approved and those who did not. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote:
“It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of Constitutional history … The establishment clause had been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly forty years. … There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the framers intended to build a wall of separation… The recent court decisions are in no way based on either the language or intent of the framers.”31
The public however, during the intervening years, succumbed to constant repetition of the phrase separation of church and state. After a time, many Americans came to believe that their Constitution contained those words.
Initially, the Jewish organizations argued that specifically Christian prayers breached the putative wall of separation between church and state. When school administrators carefully allowed only prayers consistent with Jewish teaching the Jewish organizations pressed farther to exclude all vocal prayer. Finally, they opposed even a minute for silent reflection because some student might use the time for prayer.
As public institutions began to accept that objective, the major Jewish organizations began to extend the principle still farther to prohibit any public recognition of religion. By 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court had completely transformed the First Amendment to read, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” These Jewish organizations, through the Court decisions they supported, no longer recognized religion as the special relationship between God and man but rather as a private opinion. The Constitution had been transformed from a moral bulwark to a mere system of procedures that govern who gets what, when, and how.
The Jewish War Against Jewish Religious Activity
Jewish opposition even to Jewish religious activity approached its zenith in Rhode Island. A school board planning its high school graduating ceremony invited a rabbi to read brief prayers of invocation and benediction. Deborah Weisman, a nonreligious Jew in the graduating class, felt peer pressure to stand or show respect during the few minutes of prayer. The Weisman family, with the support of several liberal Jewish organizations, sued, arguing that this would be “coercion.” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court in Lee v. Weisman, 1992, “Research in psychology supports the common assumption that adolescents are often susceptible to pressure from their peers towards conformity.” America’s 200-year old tradition of a benediction at great public events had to yield to this pervasive hostility to all religion in public life.
The zenith came in the 1994 Kiryas Joel school district case. Kiryas Joel is a town of 12,000 Satmar Chassidic Jews. The Satmar sect, lacking resources to educate emotionally and physically disabled children in its private religious school system, arranged for these children to be educated in secular subjects by licensed public school teachers in their town. Although New York State offered all its disabled children such a secular education, and although the teachers, therapists, and district superintendent were not Satmar Chassidim and did not live in the town, the state argued that because it would help Chassidic Jews it was an “unconstitutional establishment of religion.”
An amicus curiae brief opposed to the Kiryas Joel community’s request was filed by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the National Council of Jewish Women, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Another was joined by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the American Jewish Congress, and the National Jewish Community Relations Councils with People for the American Way. Supporting Kiryas Joel were three Orthodox Jewish organizations — Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, Agudath Israel of America, and the National Council of Young Israel — and two Christian groups — the U.S. Catholic Conference and the National Association of Evangelicals. The major Jewish groups all argued against helping Orthodox Jews raise their children as Orthodox Jews. The Christians supported the Orthodox Jews!
The suppression weapon the Jews aimed at Christian life hit Jews even harder than it hit Christians. When Jews argued consistently for suppression of religious activity in the public forum they meant Christian religious activity. The strategy had been, “Be a Jew in your own tent and a mensch when you go out.32 But Judaism, with its 613 Torah mitzvot, is focused on ritual. When Jews stopped being Jewish on the street, they soon stopped being Jewish in their tents as well. Christianity, focused on the person of Christ, was better able to survive the suppression of outward appearance.
Liberalism is Killing Judaism
We cannot break a covenant. We break ourselves against it. Judaism, the covenant between God and an entire people, has been debilitated by liberalism, which separates a people from religious obligation.
God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” Gen 1:28. Liberal Jews who support contraception, abortion and homosexuality are suppressing their own birth rates to far below replacement levels. Alan Dershowitz is succinct: “Our numbers may soon be reduced to the point where our impact on American life will necessarily become marginalized. One Harvard study predicts that if current demographic trends continue, the American Jewish community is likely to number less than 1 million and conceivably as few as 10,000 by the time the United States celebrates its tercentennial in 2076.33 Dershowitz does not flinch from this observation: “…where the Nazis failed in their nightmarish plan to eliminate Jews as a potent force in the world, we ourselves may succeed…”34 Yet he does not blame voluntary population suppression but rather the Christian right. However, in Israel where there is no Christian majority, the liberal Jew is as secular and reluctant to raise children as his American counterpart. Most liberal Jews in Israel no longer go to synagogue or participate actively in Jewish religious life. In the United States, Christian anti-Judaism is a distant secondary cause of the debilitation. If it had been a primary cause we would see a great difference between liberal American Jews and liberal Israeli Jews.
A given population at any time has two alternatives: It can devote its energies and resources to gaining influence or to raising children. A population raising very few children has higher income and lower expenses, making more money available for gaining power through higher education, political contributions, activism, etc. It is an effective strategy for gaining power in the present generation, but it leads inevitably to decline and disappearance during the following century. That same population can instead devote its resources to raising and home-schooling large numbers of children. It will have little influence in the present generation because all its resources are committed to child-raising. But during the following century it will become much more numerous. Salvation history acts through thousands of years.
In the United States, among the 6.8 million living persons of Jewish descent, 1.3 million profess another religion and 1.1 million say they have no religion, leaving 4.4 million who identify themselves as Jews.35 In 1959 Jews had the lowest intermarriage rate of any group, about seven percent. As the “separation of church and state” doctrine seeped into the American consciousness the rate of Jewish intermarriage increased sharply. From 1965 to 1971 it was 23 percent. By 1984 it reached 51 percent. Today among Reform Jews it is about 60 percent.36
During the past 30 years New York City’s Jewish population has declined from two million to less than one million, of whom 200,000 were born in the former USSR. Where once many American Jews lived in New York City and other areas of concentration, now 40 percent live in the south or the west. Temple affiliation is much lower in these areas than in the north and east. Where only a small percentage of the population is Jewish and few temples are available, it is far more difficult for young Jews to find Jews of the opposite sex to marry. In those areas intermarriage rates are extremely high.
Liberal Jewish groups, recognizing that the assimilation strategy and the paucity of temple membership have made intermarriage inevitable, have proposed outreach efforts that bring the Christian spouse into the temple. Elliot Abrams tells us that nearly 90 percent of Reform temples now grant membership to non-Jewish spouses.37 In many temples non-Jews even hold official positions. But this brings its own risk. Reform Rabbi Michael Mayer wonders, “When will we begin to hear demands that not only should Christians be given full equality in the Reform temple but also — at least up to a point — so should Christianity?”38
The risk is even greater outside the temple. The present generation identifies Judaism with the Shoah. But the living witnesses are aging; by the next generation they will be gone. The present generation remembers Israel’s birth in 1948 with its sense of Biblical fulfillment, its promise, “Next year in Jerusalem,” its anthem Hatikvah. The next generation will see Israel without romance. A generation bereft of links with Judaism will raise its own children with even less attachment. Judaism as political liberalism will soon appear identical with secular liberalism. For a generation or two the cultural cues inculcated by the last religious generation will remain, but all too soon the chicken soup will become wonton soup.
Dershowitz, to maximize the number of Jews, is prepared to jettison all that makes a Jew. He rejects the religious requirement of belief in God and Torah, but also the racial requirement that one be born of a Jewish mother. “In America, and in other nations that separate church from state, one’s Jewishness is a matter of self-definition and anyone who wants to be considered a Jew or a half-Jew, or a partial Jew or a person of Jewish heritage has a right to be so considered.”39 Until recently, liberal Jews had rejected God but at least held fast to Jewish identity through race and culture. Now all that remains is an animus against Christians. Dershowitz admits, “Indeed, for many Jews the only factor that distinguishes Judaism from Christianity is a negative one: We reject Jesus as the Messiah.”40 Jewish anti-Christianism can only inflame Christian anti-Judaism.
In Israel, George Santayana’s piquant observation that those who do not learn from history will repeat it comes to mind. Jeroboam, king of Israel, “…Made two calves of gold … he offered sacrifices upon the altar … sacrificing to the calves that he had made.” (1 Kings 12:28-32) Soon after that, the land of Israel became Palestine, and the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher lost their Jewish identity.
Israel remains strong, for now. Its per capita income is comparable to Canada’s, and its civic culture is lively and colorful. But the signs of change are ominous. Arab countries have the world’s highest birth rates while Israel’s birth rate is low. Demographers anticipate that within the next 50 years a majority of Israelis will be Arabs, not Jews. If Israel remains a democracy its flag will no longer be blue and white with a Star of David but green with a star and crescent. After thirty centuries Israel would remain Israel for only one century.
The end of the Jewish homeland could come much sooner. Many Israelis, no longer energized by God and Torah, are tired of moral opprobrium, tired of military preparedness, tired of war. As recently as the 1996 elections, the Palestinians’ non-compliance with their signed agreements was a serious issue. During the 1999 elections, with the Palestinians still mostly non-compliant, the issue had virtually disappeared. The land for peace formula had always envisioned Israel giving up something concrete and permanent in return for something that could disappear in a flash. Now that the Palestinians have seen that they can renege with impunity, there will be no peace until Israel is renamed Palestine and gets its star and crescent flag.
A clear majority of Israeli opinion now holds that Palestinians are also tired of war and want peace. By contrast, in recent years, Arab denials of Israel’s right to exist have become less secular and more Islamic, more united. Israel returned all of the Sinai to Egypt but gained a very cold peace; today Egypt’s cultural life increasingly promotes Islam and fosters hatred of Israel. Israel is prepared to return the Golan to Syria with scant reason to anticipate peace. In Jordan, the best efforts of two kings have not been able to slow its majority Palestinian population’s hatred of Israel. In all of the Arab countries, opposition to Israel’s continued existence is taking on a more Islamic resonance. From their perspective, Israel is becoming less a geopolitical intrusion and more an affront to Allah.
The great Jewish odyssey across four thousand years is unique in world history. All the other ancient tribes, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, and Philistines, are gone. Today’s Egyptians and Greeks are nothing like their ancient counterparts. Yet, despite three thousand years without earthly power, if Moses were to walk into an Orthodox Jewish synagogue today he would be in a familiar place. That could happen only by God’s power. Salvation history teaches inexorably that God gives bountifully when we hold fast to his covenant, and that he takes back His gifts when we take back our promise. “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do, and we will be obedient.” (Ex 24:7)
Rabbi Akiva, during the Roman occupation of Judea, wrote, “The Torah is our life and the length of our days … Though we are in great danger while studying Torah, we would surely disappear and be no more were we to give up its study.”41
The Historic Crossroads
As the millennium approaches, Jews and Catholics have a historic opportunity to come together as brothers in God’s providence.
There can be no turning back to the ghetto in which Judaism survived for so many centuries. The ghetto can never again be the cloister it was. Modern satellite technology means that hundreds of television channels can be received anywhere. Even the Jew who lives in a small apartment with no satellite dish has access to the Internet.
God said, “I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.” Deut 30:15 The way to life is t’shuvah,42 resolute reversal of the past half-century’s transition from reliance on God to reliance on government, toward re-instituting the Ten Commandments as the moral star of western civilization. We have fallen far into the miry bog, but our heavenly Father can deliver us as He did King David. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock” Ps 40:1-2.
Jews and Catholics need to choose religious life, supporting one another as friends and allies. A recent movement in the United Nations gathered considerable momentum to change the status of the Vatican, in international law a sovereign nation, on the ground that “it’s a religion not a country.” The Vatican is an independent nation, a 109-acre enclave in Rome on the west bank of the Tiber River, with its own flag, telephone system, post office, radio station, banking system and Swiss Guards, with special extraterritorial privileges in ten other buildings within Rome as well as Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence in the Alban Hills, and embassies in numerous foreign nations. The Vatican has engaged in international relations since the fourth century and currently exchanges diplomats with nearly 170 countries everywhere in the world. Within its territory the pope has absolute legislative, executive and judicial power. From 756 to 1870 the papal states covered much of central Italy. By 1929 the Lateran Treaty provided that the Vatican would recognize the state of Italy with Rome as its capital while Italy in return would recognize papal sovereignty over Vatican City. Most Vatican City residents are priests and nuns, although there are also several hundred laymen in the secretarial, domestic, trade, and service occupations.
At present, the Vatican has a special status as a Non-Member State Permanent Observer (NMSPO). Switzerland has the same status, for a similar reason. The Vatican speaks of principles rather than persons because it seeks to remain neutral so that it can serve all nations. NMSPO status enables the Vatican and Switzerland to participate in discussions while preserving political neutrality. NMSPO countries also have no obligation to send soldiers to participate in “peacekeeping” missions which often in practice become military engagements. The campaign seeks to reduce the Vatican’s status to Non-Government Observer (NGO), which can be one person with a fax machine.
Some Jews are already supporting the Holy See. Rabbi Yehuda Levin comments:
“Half a century ago, my family was the victim of a movement which wanted to rid the world of Jews and Jewish teachings and Jewish values. Today the extremists seek to disallow and disenfranchise the Catholic community and their ideas. Often it is the Catholic presence which reflects our traditional Jewish teaching on respect for life and family. I call upon the UN and her members to reject this censorship, reject the bigotry, and reject this hate of the Vatican and of the Jewish pro-life and family [traditions] it expresses. Sixty years ago our people asked, ‘Where were you for the Jews?’ Today we ask the world, ‘Where are you for the Catholics?’”43
Rabbi Levin’s remarks remind us of Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, imprisoned by the Nazis near Berlin, who said:
In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.
The Vatican and Israel are not the only states in the United Nations with a special religious identity. The U.S. State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999 44 states of Saudi Arabia:
Freedom of Religion does not exist. Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslims. The Government prohibits the public practice of other religions. Private worship by non-Muslims is permitted.
The Government has declared the Islamic holy book the Koran, and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad, to be the country’s Constitution. The Government bases its legitimacy on governance according to the precepts of a rigorously conservative form of Islam. Neither the Government nor society in general accepts the concept of separation of religion and state.
Conversion by a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy. Public apostasy is a crime under Shari’a (Islamic law) and punishable by death.
During the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. military chaplains in Saudi Arabia were required to remove the crosses from their uniforms!
The State Department report says of Afghanistan: “Freedom of religion is restricted severely. Due to the absence of a constitution and the ongoing civil war, religious freedom is determined primarily by unofficial, unwritten, and evolving policies of the warring factions. In most parts of the country, the Pashtun-dominated ultra-conservative Islamic movement known as the Taliban vigorously enforced its interpretation of Islamic law.” It says of Iran: “The Government restricts freedom of religion. The Constitution declares that the ‘official religion of Iran is Islam and the doctrine followed is that of Ja’fari (Twelver) Shiism.’” Of Iraq: “The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government severely limits this right in practice. Islam is the official state religion. The Government’s registration requirements for religious organizations are unknown. The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs monitors places of worship, appoints the clergy, approves the building and repair of all places of worship, and approves the publication of all religious literature.” Of Sudan: “The Government treats Islam as the state religion and has declared that Islam must inspire the country’s laws, institutions, and policies.”
The other Islamic Conference states, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, exercise varying levels of control over religious activity.
Some non-Islamic countries are also hostile to religious freedom. The State Department report treats China with remarkable deference but admits, “Police closed many ‘underground’ mosques, temples, seminaries, Catholic churches, and Protestant ‘house churches,’ many with significant memberships, properties, financial resources, and networks. Leaders of unauthorized groups are often the targets of harassment, interrogations, detention, and physical abuse.”
Even England has an official religion. The King or Queen of England holds the title “Defender of the Faith of the Church of England.” The Act of Settlement of 1701 to this day prohibits any person in the direct line of succession to the throne from marrying a Roman Catholic. So the attempt to remove the Vatican from full United Nations membership is not because “it’s a religion” but because it proposes the Catholic religion.
Israel too has suffered exclusion as a nation associated with a particular religion. In the United Nations, Israel is the only member nation that cannot sit on the Security Council. It is also the only nation that belongs to no regional grouping; the Europeans, Asians, and Africans will not accept it as a partner.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, parent body of the American Red Cross, has 176 member organizations from every part of the world, including North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But Israel’s Red Cross, the Mogen David Adom, is denied admission and relegated to observer status, ostensibly because its Red Shield (Star) of David would lead to a proliferation of other symbols. Islamic countries were allowed to use the Red Crescent and even to make it part of the Federation’s name. Iran was allowed to use its Lion and Sun. The Arab countries simply do not want Israel to be a full member.
We need each other as brothers in God’s providence.
Vatican II teaches that all Catholics are called to ecumenism:
The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council … But the Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times more than ever before, He has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their divisions and to a longing for unity … This movement toward unity is called “ecumenical.”45
Ecumenism is coming together for combined strength on principles held in common by each faith. For instance, Jews and Catholics together proclaim, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” Deut 6:4 Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims may come together as brothers in Abrahamic faith to oppose the Mormon idea of many gods.
Jewish and Catholic teaching are both authentic revelations from God at different stages of salvation history, so they overlay one another exceptionally well. Identifying elements common to both faith traditions helps them to love one another.
However, both Jewish and Catholic authorities are determined to avoid syncretism, which takes some from this religion and some from that. If Jews say God is one divine person while Catholics say three, syncretism might propose two. Syncretism will be rigorously excluded.
The Church recognizes that ecumenism entails the risk that it will be unrequited or even ridiculed.
“With respect to ecumenism, the purpose of ecclesial acts of repentance can be none other than the unity desired by the Lord. Therefore, it is hoped that they will be carried out reciprocally, though at times prophetic gestures may call for a unilateral and absolutely gratuitous initiative.”46
From both faith and long experience, the Church knows that her Shepherd will lead His flock to safe pasture. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” Jn 15:18. He added, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” Jn 16:33.
Memory and Reconciliation recognizes some of the difficulties.
In the dialogue with cultures, one must, above all, keep in mind the complexity and plurality of the notions of repentance and forgiveness in the minds of those with whom we dialogue. In every case, the Church’s taking responsibility for past faults should be explained in the light of the Gospel and of the presentation of the crucified Lord, who is the revelation of mercy and the source of forgiveness, in addition to explaining the nature of ecclesial communion as a unity through time and space.47
Judaism is both a religious faith and a people with a distinctive culture. At the religious level, for starting the dialogue it should suffice to invoke God’s command that we love one another Lev 19:18 and that Jesus summarized the Decalogue in His two great commandments. The first three Decalogue commandments teach us how to love God while the remaining seven teach us how to love one another.48 Our crucified Lord prayed in his agony, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Lk 23:34.
However, at the cultural level the situation is more complicated. Judaism does not have a counterpart to the Vicar of Christ, one man who can lead the whole people of faith. Some, such as Rabbi Neusner49 and Rabbi Klenicki,50 have been receptive. Others have been less so. Memory and Reconciliation proposes for cases of deliberate obstinacy:
Where one may be dealing with a prejudicial indifference to the language of faith, one should take into account the possible double effect of an act of repentance by the Church: on the one hand, negative prejudices or disdainful and hostile attitudes might be confirmed; on the other hand, these acts share in the mysterious attraction exercised by the “crucified God.”51 One should also take into account the fact that in the current cultural context, above all of the West, the invitation to a purification of memory involves believers and non-believers alike in a common commitment. This common effort is itself already a positive witness of docility to the truth.52
St. Paul taught, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head” Rom 12:20. Over time, a generous outpouring of true and consistent charity embarrasses and isolates those who obstinately withhold charity. Still, if even Jesus could win over only Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea among the Sanhedrin, all we can do is humbly open the way for the Holy Spirit to reach our brothers’ hearts.
What Catholics Can Offer Jews
Worldwide, there are about 100 Christians for every Jew. When it is proposed that Jews work together with Christians for common social and political objectives, the Jewish side often anticipates that its interests would be submerged. In fact, Jewish legal acumen alone would assure the continued survival and success of Jewish objectives in the United States and Israel, the countries in which a majority of the world’s Jews live.
But it would not merely be survival by wits. Christian social principles, rightly understood, support the right of Jews to live as Jews. Since Protestant Christianity, beyond a few well known principles, does not have a coherent social philosophy, we may turn to Catholic social teaching for a vision of Christian statecraft.
Catholic Social Teaching
[More recent: Catholic Social Teaching] Catholic social teaching is proclaimed primarily through letters from the pope that apply the eternal principles to a changing world. They are called “encyclical” letters, from the Latin encyclicus, circular, because they are intended for wide circulation. Pope Leo XIII set forth five great principles of Catholic social teaching in his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891): (1) God is sovereign over man. (2) Each human person has incomparable worth and dignity consistent with being made in God’s image and likeness. (3) The family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society. (4) Every human being has a right to economic initiative. (5) Every human being has a right to own property. Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (1967), and St. John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) and Centesimus Annus (1991) further develop these principles of Catholic social teaching.
God is Sovereign
The first great precept of Catholic social teaching is God’s sovereignty over man. From that flows the truth that our soul, pure spirit in God’s image and likeness, Gen 1:27 needs God. Pope Leo XIII said that the “religious interests of the worker [must] receive proper consideration.”53 He explained that the just wage was not the lowest an employer could get away with, but “sufficiently large to enable [the laborer] to provide comfortably for himself, his wife, and his children.”54 God created marriage and the family for procreation, to participate in God’s ongoing creation by producing healthy children who would grow up and themselves marry and procreate. St. John Paul II observed that far too many people still “live in situations in which the struggle for the bare minimum is uppermost.”55 Pope Leo XIII affirmed the right of workers to form associations, provided that “moral and religious perfection ought to be regarded as their principal goal,” and added, “What would it profit a worker to secure through an association an abundance of goods, if his soul through lack of an abundance of its proper food should run the risk of perishing”56. Jesus asked rhetorically, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his [eternal] life?” (Mk 8:36) John Paul II expressed it succinctly: “The apex of development is the exercise of the right and duty to seek God, to know him and to live in accordance with that knowledge”57
God’s Image and Likeness
The second great precept is the incomparable worth and dignity of every human being consistent with being made in God’s image and likeness. Pope Leo XIII affirmed that “…no one may with impunity outrage the great dignity of man, which God Himself treats with great reverence … a man may not even by his own free choice allow himself to be treated in a way inconsistent with his nature.”58 The Church further teaches, “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis for the moral legitimacy of every authority”59.
The Church does not impose its will on government. John Paul II wrote, “Nor does the Church close her eyes to the danger of fanaticism or fundamentalism among those who, in the name of an ideology which purports to be scientific or religious, claim the right to impose on others their own concept of what is true and good”60. He added that the Church “is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution”61 Rather, the Church’s “contribution to the political order is precisely her vision of the dignity of the person revealed in all its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word”62 John Paul II, addressing missionary activity, added, “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing”63.
We Are Called to Help the Poor
The third great precept is that every human being has a right to economic initiative. John Paul II wrote, “The right to economic initiative is a right which is important not only for the individual but for the common good. Experience shows us that the denial of this right … destroys the spirit of initiative … This provokes a sense of frustration, of desperation, and predisposes people to opt out of national life”64. The Church teaches, “These differences [among men] belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular talents share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods”65. The Church teaches that we are certainly to help those in need. “By virtue of her own evangelical duty the Church feels called to take her stand beside the poor, to discern the justice of their requests, and to help satisfy them, without losing sight of the … context of the common good”66. We learn to love one another, and receive blessings from God for it, when we freely give our own resources to the poor. State redistribution, whether by collectivism, confiscatory taxation or allocation by race or ethnicity, forcibly takes from us the resources we might have offered charitably to others and often leaves us resenting the very persons that the Church ardently desires we love.
Love for the poor means that we actively want the poor to discover God’s love and grace, and also to have adequate food, clothing and shelter, and that we freely do what we can to help. The usual objection is that the total volume of gifts freely given would not be enough to cover the cost of sustaining the poor. From a Catholic perspective that is evidence that we all — Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, etc. — have not proclaimed the great love to which God calls us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lv 19:18) Jesus raised that love to embrace all mankind and made it the mark of His disciples: “Love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34) Even atheists often discover in the natural law an obligation to help the poor.
The Family is the Sanctuary of Life
The fourth great precept is that the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society. The Church emphasizes that family means a man and woman wed in holy matrimony and raising children. John Paul II explained,
The first and fundamental structure for “human ecology” is the family, in which someone receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. Here we mean the family founded in marriage, in which the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born, develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny … It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life — the gift of God — can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth.67
Private Property Serves Human Freedom
The fifth great precept is the right to private property. Pope Leo XIII wrote that the right to private property “… is inherent in natural law: “… it is the most sacred law of nature that the father of a family see that his offspring are provided with all the necessities of life”68.
St. John Paul II carefully explains that Catholic social teaching supports “…an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector … circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious”69.
Catholic insistence on absolute truth is precisely what would protect Jews in a land governed by Catholic principles. The Catholic Church holds as absolutely true that God gave us freedom to accept or reject God’s offered grace. Jews would have far more freedom to worship as Jews in a Catholic social environment than in an environment in which all public religious activity is suppressed. Memory and Reconciliation acknowledges that many Catholics have not understood Church teaching, and calls Catholics to walk toward the Cross on a path of love and charity for all.
Ethical relativism undergirds the secular liberal perspective. Increasing numbers of young people say, “I personally didn’t like the Shoah, but I can’t say that it was wrong.” There is not much safety for any of us in such a morally vacuous environment.
What Jews Can Offer Catholics
As Jews and Catholics walk together toward God, it is healthy for us to establish a principle of reciprocity.
Memory and Reconciliation said, “It would also be desirable if these acts of repentance would stimulate the members of other religions to acknowledge the faults of their own past”70 God loves all his covenant family; anti-Catholicism is the same sin as anti-Judaism. Comparable Jewish purification of memory might at minimum include some contrition for Rabbi Gamaliel’s birkat ha minim (Benediction of the Heretics), a 19th “benediction” added around 80 AD to the traditional Shemone Esrei (Eighteen Benedictions) that sought to pray the Christians into hell.
For example, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC has been showing an anti-Christian movie. It begins with a long account of anti-Semitic doctrines and actions by various popes and Martin Luther, suggesting that anti-Semitism began with Christianity and is nourished by its influence. There is no mention that anti-Semitism began when Egypt enslaved the Israelite people for four hundred years and continued as Canaanites, Perrizites, Amalekites, Midianites, Ammonites, Philistines, Babylonians and other tribes constantly attacked the Israelite tribes. During the past thirteen centuries Muslims have ferociously attacked Jews. In our own day the State of Israel is threatened by Muslims, and Israel looks to a nation mostly populated by Christians for financial aid, political support, and military support. The film goes on to depict Hitler saying such things as “The only difference between me and the Church is that I am finishing the job.” If Hitler is not credible on Judaism, he is not credible on Christianity. Finally, it closes with a 1994 rejection of Luther’s anti-Semitic writings by the Lutheran Church, again reminding the audience that Christianity has been the historic cause of anti-Semitism.
Reconciliation can occur only if both sides confess their sins in true contrition and seek to know one another as brothers in God’s providence.
The same principles for protection of religious and civic activity should apply to both Christians in Israel and Jews in the United States. Most Christians in Israel are Palestinian, as are most Muslims. There is a vast difference between Christians, whose religious doctrines expressly support freedom of worship, and Muslims, who characterize non-Muslims as “infidels,” bar them from the streets of Mecca and Medina, and might someday bar them from Jerusalem where stand together the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Wall. Palestinian Christians are often persecuted by Israel, which has generally restricted Palestinians without regard to the principle of freedom of worship, and by the Palestinian Authority, which discriminates against Christians because they support freedom of worship.
St. Maximilian Kolbe gave a stirring example by volunteering to be killed at Auschwitz in place of Polish army sergeant Francis Gajowniczek. Everyone who knew what that Catholic priest did saw in him a reflection of Jesus, who freely gave His own life on the cross for us. Yet some prominent Jews objected to his being canonized because they claimed that he was anti-Jewish. In fact, he wrote only occasionally on Jews or Judaism, and then his interest was in the conversion of Jews to Catholicism. Jesus calls every Catholic, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” Mt 28:19
St. Edith Stein, (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)71 was a cloistered nun who became a Catholic martyr at Auschwitz in 1942 by offering her life for the people of Israel. Many Jewish organizations objected to her canonization because she was the first Jewish born saint since the apostles. The Jewish argument is that she was killed because she was a Jew and therefore could not be claimed as a Catholic martyr. St. Teresa Benedicta became Catholic at the moment of her baptism and was killed specifically as a Catholic of Jewish origin.
Pope Pius XII was hailed by prominent Jews in his day for heroic efforts to save Jewish lives in an extremely difficult environment. Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center had been opposing his canonization as a Catholic saint, arguing that throughout World War II he “sat on the throne of St. Peter in stony silence, without ever lifting a finger, as each day thousands of Jews were sent to the gas chambers with his full knowledge.” Catholics who observe that a rabbi can press so bitter a calumny and still keep his job are apt to draw conclusions that will not help efforts to improve relations.
The decision as to who is a Catholic saint belongs to the Catholic Church. The dialogue between Jews and Catholics has great value, but when Jews extend the rubric of anti-Judaism to internal Catholic decisions they open the way for Catholics to raise comparable issues within Judaism.
Catholics Killed in the Shoah
Jews correctly deplore the old “Jews killed Christ” blood libel, but many press a “Christianity begot the Shoah” blood libel. Moral clarity requires that the Nazi high command, whose orders built Auschwitz and whose orders could have dismantled it, be held solely responsible. The “continuity theory,” which disperses moral responsibility among a whole population, consistently applied, leads straight back to “the Jews killed Christ.”
Jews ask Catholics to respect Jewish suffering during the Shoah, but often decline to recognize that many Catholics and others died as well. The Nazis decimated the Catholic Church in Poland. In the Warthegau region the Nazis killed 80 percent of the Catholic clergy, in Wroclaw, 49.2 percent, in Chelmno, 47.8 percent; in Lodz, 36.8 percent; in Poznan, 31.1 percent. Poznan had 30 churches and 47 chapels; the Nazis left two open to serve 200,000 Catholics. In Lodz four churches were left open to serve 700,000 Catholics.72 In all, some three million Polish Catholics were killed.
Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5 teaches that whoever destroys one life is considered by Torah as if he destroyed the entire world, and that whoever saves one life is considered by Torah as if he saved an entire world. We all have dead to mourn.
You Will Try to Convert Us
[More recent: Hear O Israel]
Jews and Christians see evangelization from very different perspectives. Jesus called His followers to go and make disciples of all nations Mt 28:19. From the Jewish perspective, an invigorated Christianity would draw even more Jews.
The best defense is a strong faith. Orthodox Jewish conversions to Christianity are rare because their Jewish roots are deep. The plant with weak roots is the one easily pulled from the soil. Beyond that, let us review the Catholic teaching in this area. “Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits. This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order.” 73 Catholics will never again force baptism on Jews.
An invigorated Jewish faith and an invigorated Catholic Church will continue walking as brothers in God’s providence. Catholics will try to lead Jews into the Church, and Jews will try to resist, until the end of time. But when we zoom the lens back from telephoto to wide angle, we will find the brothers much more healthy and better prepared to resist the secular forces that threaten both their flocks.
The Time is Now
Maimonides believed that before the Messiah’s arrival all the world would be Jewish. The Catholic Church, Judaism transformed by the Messiah, understands that the Messiah’s return is suspended at every moment of history until His recognition by all Israel.74 This is the context of Memory and Reconciliation. Jeff Jacoby observed, “The pope’s confession is a moral event of seismic proportions”75 Sidney Zion wrote that the pope’s “plea to God for forgiveness [is] as awesome in its way as the Holocaust itself”76.
God promised to join Ezekiel’s two sticks, “that they may be one in my hand” Ezek 37:19. The stick of Jacob is the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the Jews of today. The stick of Joseph is the stick of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. There has been a stirring of interest in the ten tribes. Although most descendants of the ten tribes assimilated into distant populations thousands of years ago, researchers have discovered throughout the world isolated communities practicing recognizably Jewish worship. Ezekiel’s prophecy continued, “My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd” Ezek 37:24. The Son of David said, “There shall be one flock, one shepherd” Jn 10:16.
Catholics recognize too that, “The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection”77 The present confusion among so many bishops and priests in the United States, together with the federal government’s intense interest in being the nation’s moral tutor on issues such as life and death within the womb, relationships between the races, and homosexual behavior, while it actively seeks to suppress Christian influence in public life, suggests that we are in the final Passover today.
It has long been observed that, in a mysterious way, Jews across the centuries have reflected the image of Jesus. They have walked a long via crucis, beaten, mocked and derided. Mystically speaking, the Jews were crucified at Auschwitz and three years later rose from the dead in Israel after a three thousand year exile. The Jews as a people are taking on a Christlike character in their intense focus on the Shoah, their Final Sacrifice. Marc Chagall depicted that Christlike dimension in Exodus, White Crucifixion, and other paintings and lithographs.
This time in salvation history is so extraordinary, and is moving so rapidly, that our darkened intellects can scarcely comprehend it. To Jews who viscerally oppose any reconciliation with Christianity, we can only commend trust in God’s providence. To Catholics, we recall Christ’s explanation of the Holy Spirit, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes” Jn 3:8.
“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” Deut 30:19. This historic opportunity to come closer to God, and closer to one another, perfectly preserving the integrity of both faiths, may not last long. The Shoah and the sudden disappearance of Christianity from public life bring into sharp focus the need for all who serve our Father in heaven to work together against the culture of death. As both historic events recede into the sands of time, Jewish and Christian multitudes may come to see religion as less important in their lives, to their eternal loss. But if we can come together and love one another as God commanded Lev 19:18, our pilgrim journey on this long dark road will lead us to the superbrilliant light of His glory.