Pope Benedict XVI

By Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Rabbi Alan Silverstein The ending of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI is a time for Jews to be “Hakarat Hatov,” to acknowledge and to praise acts of kindness bestowed upon us. In the words of ecumenical authority, Rabbi Israel Singer, the current pope, known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the papacy of his revered predecessor, “was the architect of the policy [of healing] that John Paul II fulfilled with regard to relations with the Jews…” Benedict XVI’s long-time friendship toward Jews and Judaism intensified during his ensuing 8 years as Pope.

Covenant: In contrast to centuries of insistence that Jewry had been rejected by the Almighty, Both as the prefect of the Vatican’s top doctrinal body and then as Pope, Benedict cited Romans 9:11 as a proof text that Jews forever remain in covenant with God. Accordingly, in his installation homily, Benedict XVI greeted “my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God’s irrevocable promises.”As Pope, Benedict XVI intensified Catholic dialogue with the chief rabbis of Israel. He conducted well-publicized visits to prominent synagogues in Europe and the USA. He affirmed the ecumenical teachings of the 1965 Second Vatican Council. He warmly greeted Jewish delegations from around the world. Messianism: For centuries, the Jewish refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah, had been a source of tension pitting Christians against Jews. To combat this source of friction, the former Cardinal Ratzinger oversaw the preparation of The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible. This volume provided a theological justification for the Jews’ rejection of Jesus, noting “Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain.” Instead, the continuing Jewish aspiration for the messiah was to be seen as part of the Divine plan for reminding the world that peace and salvation for all humanity is still incomplete. In the process, Pope Benedict reshaped the Christian understanding of continuing Jewish messianic hopes into the context for “Tikkun Olam,” Jewry’s determination to repair the brokenness within God’s world. Biblical interpretation: In previous generations, rabbinic commentary about sacred texts was viewed by the Church as religiously insignificant and even misguided. In The Jewish People and their Sacred Scripture in the Christian Bible, Cardinal Ratzinger affirmed Jewish interpretations of the Torah as legitimate counterparts to the insights of the Church Fathers. “Christians can and ought to admit that the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish Sacred Scriptures from the Second Temple period.” Joint study of Scriptural passages was now affirmed. Pope Benedict’s official respect for rabbinic Judaism became best known to the public-at-large through his 2011 publication, Jesus of Nazareth, according prominence to the philo-Semitic teachings of Nostra Aetate. The Shoa and anti-Semitism: Pope John Paul II labeled anti-Semitism as a sin against both humanity and God. Cardinal Ratzinger added scholarly affirmation to this moral legacy by preparing Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past. He outlined the Church’s historical “errors” in its mistreatment of the Jews. “It cannot be denied,” Memory and Reconciliation concluded, “that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.” As Pope, Benedict XVI returned to his blood-stained native Germany and publicly condemned “the rise of new signs of anti-Semitism” throughout Europe. Israel: Cardinal Ratzinger helped forge the Vatican’s diplomatic recognition of Israel in December 1993. No longer were the Jews to be viewed as divinely banished from the Holy Land. The Cardinal made several quiet visits to Israel during the final stage of this historic process. Shortly after the establishment of diplomatic ties, Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the keynote address at a Jewish-Christian conference in Jerusalem in support of Vatican-Israel relations. Reflecting upon the past 8 years, Israel’s President Shimon Peres observed that, “[During the Papacy of Benedict XVI] relations between Israel and the Vatican are the best they have ever been. The positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People is a testament to his belief in dialogue and cooperation.’ Benedict XVI’s decades of kindness are to be warmly praised by Jewish leaders. May Pope Benedict XVI be blessed with continued health and length of years. We salute his sacred role in leading the world’s Roman Catholics to lead lives of great piety, toward good fellowship with other monotheists, and toward profound faith in the Almighty. Rabbi Alan Silverstein is past president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, current Board Chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel  and is the spiritual leader ofCongregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell, New Jersey