Important 2005 Article on Benedict and the Rabbis

As it turns out, this 2005 New York Sun article which a reader called attention to was prophetic. It foretold of Benedict’s 2008 Good Friday prayer for the Jews that he tacked onto the 1962 Missal. According to former World Jewish Congress official and Edgar Bronfman crony, Rabbi Israel Singer, Benedict had told him he would make such a change in 1993 during a visit to his Vatican apartment:

In 1993 … Rabbi Singer … visited Cardinal Ratzinger at home … Cardinal Ratzinger, Rabbi Singer said, listened carefully to concerns about aspects of the Catholic liturgy, “and he said he was going to change that liturgy which was unacceptable because it causes anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Singer, a man who Norman Finkelstein has fittingly called a “repellent sewer rat,” was recently kicked out of the WJC. As it turns out, he’s too corrupt even for the Judaic mafia. How interesting that such a character would influence the Catholic liturgy. More on Rabbi Singer:

The Vatican Mafia

There’s No Racket Like the Shoah Racket

Lustiger’s NY Yeshiva Tour, Endorsement of Chabad Lubavitch as Religious Model

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Ecclesia Dei Commission Studying Talmud at NY Yeshiva

There are many other points of interest in this article. Searches of this blog for the rabbis mentioned below will turn up much information.

How Future Pope Won the Respect of Jewish Leaders

By MEGHAN CLYNE, Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 22, 2005

In the days since Pope Benedict XVI’s election, many critics have tarred him as an intolerant ideologue, insensitive to people of other faiths. Several New York Jewish leaders, however, while recounting their personal experiences with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, described the future pope as a gentle, humble, learned man, a brilliant theological mind, and a devoted ecclesiastical leader in whom Jews will find an important ally.

The chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Rabbi Israel Singer, remembered a trip to Rome in which he visited the then-cardinal’s personal apartment, which he said illustrated Benedict’s personality.

In 1993, Rabbi Singer said, he was at the Vatican in anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s historic declaration that the Holy See would officially recognize and maintain diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. On the eve of the announcement, Rabbi Singer said, he visited Cardinal Ratzinger at home to discuss the theological implications of the decision, of which the cardinal was a staunch supporter.

Although his residence was nestled amidst the elaborate Baroque architecture of the Vatican, Rabbi Singer said, the interior of the cardinal’s quarters was extraordinarily spare, with a German simplicity in its appointments and furnishings.

“You got the impression you were in the home of a very, very modest person,” Rabbi Singer said. “All you saw in that apartment were books – books, and books, and books, all with yellow slips with markings on them, which showed these books had all been read.”

The expansiveness of the future pope’s personal library, and the orderliness with which it was arranged, reflected the breadth, depth, and discipline of the pontiff’s intellect, Rabbi Singer said.

“He’s very fair … very thoughtful, very deep-thinking,” Rabbi Singer said of Benedict. Contrary to depictions of him as a fierce, unreflective dogmatist, the pontiff “doesn’t come to a conclusion until he’s solved all the problems and questions,” Rabbi Singer said.

Benedict’s contemplative sensitivity, the New York rabbi added, manifested itself in his responsiveness to Jewish leaders’ anxieties. Cardinal Ratzinger, Rabbi Singer said, listened carefully to concerns about aspects of the Catholic liturgy, “and he said he was going to change that liturgy which was unacceptable because it causes anti-Semitism.”

On another occasion, Rabbi Singer said, he discussed a Jewish-Catholic relief operation in Argentina with the cardinal, wondering whether – given that it was unusual for the church to suggest such collaboration with Jews – the undertaking was theologically sound.

“He listened carefully,” Rabbi Singer said, “and then said, ‘This is a very important task, bless you.’ “

“He smiled, and he said he felt this is what religion should be known for – that this is the most important aspect of the dialogue,” Rabbi Singer added.

Sometimes, Benedict’s dialogue with Jews has been conducted quietly, not in his capacity as the guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, but as a private citizen and inquisitive theologian.

A theology professor at Bard College, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, has been a regular correspondent with Benedict for the past 15 years.

Rabbi Neusner is the author of several books on Jewish theology, including translations into English of rabbinic texts. While working on a volume about the historical Jesus in 1989, he said, he came across some of Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings on the subject. Rabbi Neusner sent him a letter praising his work, and the cardinal’s response initiated a continuing communication on matters of theological scholarship.

In the course of their epistolary dialogue, Rabbi Neusner said, Cardinal Ratzinger proved himself “a very fine scholar, very smart, and very sensitive.”

When Rabbi Neusner wrote “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus” in 1994 – a book in which Rabbi Neusner says that, had he been present for the Sermon on the Mount, he would not have followed Jesus – Cardinal Ratzinger, whose English is described as excellent, sent him a blurb for the jacket.

Despite its rejection of Christian teachings, Benedict wrote of Rabbi Neusner’s work: “The absolute honesty, the precision of analysis, the union of respect for the other party with carefully grounded loyalty to one’s own position characterize the book and make it a challenge especially to Christians, who will have to ponder the analysis of the conflict between Moses and Jesus.”

Rabbi Neusner and several other Jewish leaders said Benedict’s unflinching conviction in his own faith was hardly a liability, but was precisely what made him such a valuable interlocutor – because he could appreciate Jewish leaders’ staunch belief in the truth of their own religion.

The basis of interfaith dialogue with Benedict, they said, was mutual respect and a celebration of common convictions, rather than a push to evangelize or demand alterations to doctrine. That attitude, the head of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, Rabbi David Rosen, said, would “develop a very healthy, productive relationship.”

“I think that generally within the Jewish community, they’ll recognize that in Pope Benedict XVI we have a friend,” Rabbi Rosen said by phone from Israel yesterday.

Indeed, much of the perception of Benedict as intolerant toward other faiths was the result of a misinterpretation of his 2000 encyclical “Dominus Iesus,” the director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, said. In the encyclical, Cardinal Ratzinger reasserted the fundamental church doctrine that salvation is attainable only through Roman Catholicism.

Of the document, Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said: “I don’t believe it really has anything to do with his understanding of Jews and Judaism.”

“Dominus Iesus” was directed more at the problems of orthodoxy within Christendom, including deviations by Protestant sects, Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said. It was also issued as a directive to errant factions within the Catholic Church, particularly those embracing syncretism – the attempt to blend doctrine with local customs in places where Catholicism is growing.

The encyclical, Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said, should not be read as hostility toward Jews on Benedict’s part. “In his mind … Judaism exists on an entirely different plane than any other religion,” he said.

And because Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, helped provide the theological underpinnings of the conciliatory overtures to Judaism during John Paul II’s papacy, there was no reason to suspect any ill will toward Jews on Benedict’s part, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said. “I’m convinced he will carry on that tradition,” Mr. Foxman said.

Indeed, further indications that Benedict intends to continue John Paul’s legacy emerged from Rome yesterday, where the new pontiff reconfirmed all of the heads of the Vatican Curia who had served under his predecessor, the Daily Telegraph reported.

If Benedict’s ecclesiastical past boded well for the church’s future relations with Judaism, at first glance his personal history – particularly his coerced membership in the Hitler Youth as a teenager in Germany – might not. There seems to be a consensus, however, that Benedict’s biography is not cause for concern among the Jewish community.

To the contrary, in the view of the Park East Synagogue’s Rabbi Arthur Schneier, “Because Benedict grew up in a country that inflicted tyranny,” the rabbi said, “he has a greater appreciation of freedom and liberty.”

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor, too, saw some advantage in Benedict being a German. “It’s not like I have to explain anti-Semitism to somebody who’s never experienced it,” he said.

Indeed, a founding member of the Interfaith Theological Forum of the Pope John Paul II Center at Washington, Rabbi Leon Klenicki, said Benedict expressed great sensitivity to Jewish theological questions arising from the Holocaust.

Rabbi Klenicki, who met several times with Cardinal Ratzinger, recounted a discussion with the prelate on the question: “How could God be silent when 1 million children went to the gas chambers?” That inquiry, Rabbi Klenicki said, presents a “very serious problem” in the Jewish community, “and not so much in the Christian community.” Yet Cardinal Ratzinger, Rabbi Klenicki said, “listened with total attention and fervor, realizing the pain of what I was talking about.”

In Cardinal Ratzinger, Rabbi Klenicki said, he found an empathetic man who seeks and appreciates the presence of God in every person, regardless of creed. “He was very attentive … listening to you with all his heart,” he said.

That thoughtful aspect of Benedict would be well-received by Jews, Rabbi Neusner said, because of the honor Judaism accords serious religious study. “I think the people will really appreciate him, because they appreciate intellect … and they honor learning,” he said.

Rabbi Neusner congratulated Benedict on his new post. “I wrote him a letter saying that, as he knows … Benedict means ‘blessed’ – and that’s my hope for his pontificate,” Rabbi Neusner said. “Somewhere within a few months, there’ll be a very gracious reply,” the rabbi predicted.

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