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
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.