The Dartmouth Observer

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Thursday, October 27, 2005
The Vatican and the Jews

ABC News writes today that : "Pope Benedict XVI marked the 40th anniversary of a landmark Vatican document on relations with Jews by calling Thursday for a renewed commitment for Catholics and Jews to deepen their bonds and work for the good of all humanity. Benedict issued a message that was read out during a commemoration of the "Nostra Aetate" document of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic Church deplored anti-Semitism and repudiated the "deicide" charge that blamed Jews as a people for Christ's death."

It is very good news that the more conservative pope will continue John Paul's legacy of strong interfaith relations with the Italian and worldwide Jewish community. The announcement ceremony was not without its problems, however. "Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, told The Associated Press that he had refused to attend the ceremony because of the presence of one of the keynote speakers, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jewish convert to Catholicism." In unhelpful language, Rabbi Riccardo di Segni ranted: "What is dialogue? If it means losing one's identity and crossing over to the other side, then it's not dialogue."

The Rabbi's comment are particularly unhelpful during a commemoration of a growing interfaith alliance. Adopting a siege mentality, the Rabbi played to ideas of antisemitic encroachment on the Jewish people, namely to the miedeval idea that conversion is death for a Jew. Rabbi David Rosen adds his voice in expressing the necessity of a Catholic rejection of proselytizing as a precondition to Jewish elite religious acceptance in his remark that "Catholics and Jews still needed to fully comprehend its implications, and said there were still key theological issues that remain to be worked out including whether the Catholic Church will relinquish the "invitation to conversion" to Christianity of the Jews." In short, give up a historically and confessionally important central idea of your faith so that we may feel welcome. What an awful vision of pluralism.

This strategy to interfaith dialouge is particularly unproductive given that a central tenant of the proselytizing religions, like Catholicism and Islam, is that the door is always open to anyone who wishes to be included in their special community of believers. Were the religious community not special enough to merit conversion, then one its main reasons for being would cease to exist. In a sense for proselytizing religions, there are only two types of people in the wold: believers and pre-believers. However, this particular-universality is not dangerous unless the respective faith institutions attempt to impose a uniform set of beliefs (orthodoxy) and/or practices (orthopraxy) onto any given social community. As long as the religious beliefs do not have the force of law, in either a formal or an informal* sense, then we can imagine pluralistic interfaith arrangements.

*A religious belief attains the status of being informally legally enforced when individuals who do not follow the observable implication of the belief or doctrine cannot meaningful represent and reproduce themselves in the social and political spheres due to their deviance from the prevailing norms. For example, being not observing Shabbat (the Sabbath) in an Orthodox Jewish community, or, not participating in Protestant Christian social forms in some southern communities effectively ostracizes a person and their family from community life in those communities. In most cases these laws are not legally enforced.