Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar II 5760 - March 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
How Will the Pope's Words be Implemented?

Apparently in preparation for his trip this week to the Holy Land, the first full visit by a leader of the Roman Catholic millions, Pope John Paul II prayed that "in recalling the sufferings endured by the people of Israel throughout history, Christians will acknowledge the sins committed by not a few of their number against the people of the Covenant . . ."

Those better versed than we in church history said that the entire affair was unprecedented: nothing comparable has ever occurred.

The pope is the leader of hundreds of millions of Catholics around the world. He is the head of a huge institution by any standards which is over a thousand years old, and has billions of dollars in assets, many thousands of direct employees and significant worldwide interests. Any action that he takes is against this background and cannot be fully understood or realistically evaluated without a good understanding of this vast context.

Moreover, as with any very large system, change is slow, and not at the breakneck rate that many have become accustomed to in the Internet Age. It is said that these recent actions are a development of the Second Vatican Council which took place over 35 years ago.

There is no doubt that the real importance -- and in a sense the real meaning -- of the pope's words will only become evident in the years ahead, as his words and ideas settle into the Roman Catholic domain and are absorbed and slowly implemented in the billions of actions, small and large, of the followers of that church. We welcome his words, but with a caution tempered by our own long memories at the receiving end of the deeds mentioned in his and the other officials' remarks, and wait for the future to make it clear more precisely what they mean.

We do not think that it is appropriate to remark critically about what the pope did not say. The past is difficult to evaluate and the inner workings of the church even in the present are so obscure that it is difficult at best to determine what should or should not have been done and how the responsibility should be apportioned today. It is better to focus on what was said than on what was not said, and on the future rather than the past.

In this context, we are concerned about what to expect with respect to the missionary activity of the church.

Judaism, as is well known, is not a missionizing religion. Our guidelines explicitly say that prospective converts who approach are to be discouraged. We explain to them how difficult it is to live as a Jew, and encourage them to continue to live as good people without becoming Jewish. Our own sense of the truth of Judaism does not require the conversion of the rest of the world.

Christianity has followed a very different approach. It mattered not whether they contemplated primitive peoples with primitive beliefs or civilized peoples with mature religions. In all cases their overt and covert agenda was to convert everyone as soon as possible.

If the Roman Catholic Church truly regrets what it calls its "violence in the service of truth" (which is said to be the way it refers to the treatment of non-believers during the Inquisition and the Crusades), our hope is that this will be reflected in a thorough reevaluation and fundamental changes in its missionary activities towards the Jews, which are the ultimate root of the violence and which in any case are singularly discordant in the modern spirit of tolerance.

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