Vatican: Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews

The Vatican says the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity.

Instead, the Catholic Church must work with Jews and Jewish institutions to further dialogue and mutually understand and fight anti-Semitism, according to the Vatican, which pledged “to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies.”

The statements came in a major document released Thursday by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration promulgated in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council that opened the door to formal Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

The new document, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” discussed at length how Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Because of this, it said, the Church is “obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views.”

It added, “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

Goals in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, according to the document, include “joint engagement throughout the world for justice, peace, conservation of creation, and reconciliation” in a way that would make the religious contribute toward world peace. “Religious freedom guaranteed by civil authority is the prerequisite for such dialogue and peace,” it said.

“In Jewish-Christian dialogue the situation of Christian communities in the state of Israel is of great relevance, since there — as nowhere else in the world — a Christian minority faces a Jewish majority,” the document said. “Peace in the Holy Land — lacking and constantly prayed for — plays a major role in dialogue between Jews and Christians.”

Among other goals, the document said, were “jointly combating all manifestations of racial discrimination against Jews and all forms of anti-Semitism, which have certainly not yet been eradicated and re-emerge in different ways in various contexts.” It particularly stressed the need for “unceasing vigilance and sensitivity in the social sphere” and called for tangible joint Jewish-Catholic cooperation, such as in charitable activity to help “the poor, disadvantaged and sick.”

‘Paloma’ examines interfaith relationships

Playwright Anne García-Romero, talking about her latest work, “Paloma,” said three of the world’s major religions are represented by the three main characters. “One is Muslim-American; one is Puerto Rican, and she’s Catholic; and then the third character is also American, and he is of the Jewish faith.  And so, in the play, I do bring out aspects of each of their faiths.”

She does so by depicting the relationship of the characters to their respective religions. The main conflict of the play, which is currently at the downtown Los Angeles Theatre Center, arises from a romance between Ibrahim Ahmed (Ethan Rains), a Muslim, and Paloma Flores (Caro Zeller), a Catholic. “There is a lot of discord around being able to have a relationship with an interfaith situation,” García-Romero said.

The contention between the two characters arises from Ibrahim’s desire to follow certain tenets of Islam, particularly the rule that one must remain chaste before marriage. “I wanted to explore how a character like that would exist in a modern context,” García-Romero said, “when peers that he has, or, in this case, Paloma, his romantic interest, don’t share those same values.”  

Not only are her religious values different, but Paloma, a free spirit, also pressures Ibrahim for a sexual relationship. García-Romero described Paloma as a “nominal Catholic.”

“However,” she said, “she talks about the importance of going to Christmas Eve Mass and the importance of the rosary that her mother gave her. So, for her, it’s a touchstone to her family, and it’s something that she does not want to relinquish.”

García-Romero herself is an observant Catholic and said she learned about the Muslim faith from experts at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches theater.

Regarding the Jewish character of Jared Rabinowitz (Jesse Einstein), García-Romero said, “The play doesn’t really discuss his current practice of his faith, but, for him, the notion of tradition and family are very important. He talks about his grandfather, who was a rabbi, whose life inspires his current profession. He’s a lawyer, and he’s working, in this play, to help his friend, Ibrahim, who needs his legal assistance.”

Throughout the play, we watch Jared preparing Ibrahim’s defense for an impending trial, but we don’t learn until later exactly what charges he’s facing. And, despite Ibrahim’s frequent lack of cooperation in the face of what he insists are unjust accusations, Jared persists in his desire to help his friend.

“For Jared, his faith is reflected in the desire to seek tolerance and justice in his work and in his life, and to continue his grandfather’s legacy of spirituality through justice,” García-Romero said, adding that she is very familiar with Jewish life, having grown up with numerous Jewish friends.

“When I was growing up, I went to several bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs, and so I had experiences of going to temple with my friends. And, in my adult life, I have several very close friends who are Jewish, with whom I talk a lot about faith and religion, and how it’s influenced their lives,” she said. “I had one of my friends read the script to get her opinion on the Jewish character.”

In addition, she said, “I was a part of an interfaith dialogue in my last year of college, where I attended Masses and also Jewish services. So I think all of that experience really informed the play.”  

One of the inspirations for “Paloma” was an 11th-century book on the art of Arab love called “The Ring of the Dove” by Ibn Hazm, written while Spain was under Muslim rule. In the play, Ibrahim and Paloma are studying the book as students at New York University and reading the book aloud to each other when they are alone. García-Romero, who read a Spanish translation of the text, which was originally written in Arabic, translated it to English for her play.  

“I began to look at this book and was really so intrigued by not only the poetic nature of the book, but the fact that there was this remarkable culture of poetry and science during this Muslim era in Spain, when most of Europe was, essentially, having a hard time reading and writing,” she said. 

She was also impressed by the fact that, at the time the book was written, the three religions represented in her play coexisted harmoniously in Spain. That notion of harmony is at the heart of her play.

“The universal theme for me is coexistence and tolerance,” she said. “How do we live with someone who has vastly different beliefs? How do we love them? How do we reconcile our differences?   

“I would like audiences coming away with an awareness of the complexity of interfaith relationships, and the ability to question differences in others, and being motivated to learn more about those differences versus making judgments that are uninformed,” García-Romero said. “I hope that people come away from this knowing a little bit more about each faith and really discussing how we can coexist in this modern era.”

For tickets or more information, “Paloma”, visit or call 866-811-4111

Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles
Runs through June 21, Thursday- Saturday 8 p.m. | Sunday 3 p.m.


Will Vatican’s Palestine reference impact Jewish-Catholic ties?

When considering the Vatican’s creep toward recognition of Palestinian statehood, think “Israel-Vatican” and not “Jewish-Catholic,” say Jewish officials involved in dialogue with the church.

A May 13 announcement on an agreement regarding the functioning of the church in areas under Palestinian control raised eyebrows in its reference to the “State of Palestine.”

The upset was compounded by confusion over whether Pope Francis, in a meeting over the weekend with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, praised him as an “angel of peace” or urged him to attain that vaunted status. On Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman said it was “very clear” that the pope was “encouraging a commitment to peace.”

But the Vatican’s shift from terming its Palestinian partner as the Palestine Liberation Organization — the designation Israel accepts — to calling it Palestine comports with a shift in Europe toward accommodating Palestinian statehood aspirations, the Jewish officials said.

Referring to a State of Palestine was “disturbing, but not critical,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said in an interview with JTA.

Catholic-Jewish relations and diplomacy between Israel and the Vatican are “on different tracks,” Foxman said.

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously, said they were “disappointed” in the use of State of Palestine.

“Such a development does not further the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct bilateral negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next step,” an official told the French news agency AFP.

A number of congressional Republicans also expressed “disappointment” in the pope, Politico reported.

Marshall Breger, a professor at the Catholic University of America’s School of Law who has led a number of Jewish dialogues with other faiths, said the use of the term Palestine was the product of an evolution in how the international community is treating the Palestinian question.

“De facto, the Vatican has accepted Palestine as a state,” he said. “It just adds one more country to the over 130 that have recognized Palestine.”

The issue is a matter of diplomacy and does not breach the sensitive issues under discussion between Jews and Catholics as they mark the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration that absolved Jews of responsibility for Jesus’ death, Breger said.

“It’s a minor event,” he said. “It should not interfere with Jewish-Catholic relations.”

Using Nostra Aetate as a basis, Jewish and Catholic officials over the years have addressed problematic references to Jews in the Catholic liturgy and the role of the Vatican during the Nazi period.

Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, told The Washington Post that the “Palestine” reference amounted to “appeasement of radical Muslims” and signaled “the historical Catholic enmity towards Jews.”

For the most part, however, Jewish organizations dealing with the Vatican were concerned about the statement, but only insofar as it represented another success in efforts by the Palestinians to secure statehood recognition outside the context of negotiations with Israel.

“We are fully cognizant of the Pope’s good will and desire to be a voice for peaceful coexistence, which is best served, we believe, by encouraging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, rather than unilateral gestures outside the framework of the negotiating table,” David Harris, the American Jewish Committee director, said in a statement.

Weighing in with similar statements were the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Union for Reform Judaism.

When the Vatican launched talks with the Palestinians in 2000, it referred to the other side as the PLO, but over time shifted to Palestine. Pope Francis in his 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank spoke of “my presence today in Palestine” during a Bethlehem stop and referred to “the good relations existing between the Holy See and the State of Palestine.”

Daniel Mariaschin, the director of B’nai B’rith International, said the recognition of Palestine raised concerns, but they must be seen in the context of an increased willingness in Europe to recognize Palestinian statehood and not of Jewish-Catholic relations.

He likened it to the French and British parliaments recent nonbinding recognitions of Palestine and Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood.

“It’s important, I won’t dismiss it, but it shouldn’t be seen outside that broader context,” Mariaschin said. “It raises the expectations of Palestinians to unmeetable levels and frustrates the Israelis who say we can’t get a fair deal in the international community.”

Obama administration officials continue to maintain that recognizing Palestine outside the context of peace talks is counterproductive. However, prompted in part by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s seeming election eve retreat from supporting a two-state solution, they now will not count out withholding the U.S. veto should the U.N. Security Council consider a Palestinian statehood resolution.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who also has been involved in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, said the Palestine recognition should serve as a “wake-up call” for Israel.

“It doesn’t affect [Vatican] relations with Israel at all,” Reich said.

Instead, he argued, Vatican recognition of Palestine is another manifestation of European disaffection with Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish policies and the expansion of settlements.

“It just puts more pressure on the Israeli government,” Reich said.

Jews find early signs from Pope Francis encouraging

When the white smoke rose last week at the Vatican, signaling to the world that the College of Cardinals had chosen a new pope, Catholics weren’t the only ones waiting with bated breath.

Jews, too, were eager to see whether the new pontiff would be someone familiar with their concerns.

Would he be a non-European unfamiliar with the Jewish people and the weighty legacy of the Holocaust? Would he carry on the legacy of his immediate predecessors and work to further Jewish-Catholic relations? 

After the new pope appeared before the masses in St. Peter’s Square, it didn’t take long for him to signal that he would maintain the church’s outreach to Jews. Nor did it take long for the Jews to sing his praises.

As it turns out, Pope Francis, 76 – nee Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina – was from outside Europe and had a long history of interfaith outreach and good relations with the Jews. He’s the first pope from the Americas, as well as the first in more than a millennium from outside Europe.

The new pontiff “is no stranger to us,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who met with Bergoglio in Buenos Aires in 2008, said in a statement. “He always had an open ear for our concerns.

“By choosing such an experienced man, someone who is known for his open-mindedness, the cardinals have sent an important signal to the world,” Lauder said. “I am sure that Pope Francis will continue to be a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths.”

Like Benedict before him, Francis in one of his first official acts wrote to Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni. He invited Di Segni to the papal inaugural Mass and said he hoped “to be able to contribute to the progress that relations between Jews and Catholics have experienced” since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

The election of Francis, Di Segni wrote back, “gives us the hope that the path of friendship, respect and productive collaboration will continue.”

On Saturday, the pope went out of his way to acknowledge non-Catholics in a blessing offered to news media.

“Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God,” Francis said in his address, according to The New York Times. “May God bless you.”

Pope John Paul II had made outreach to Jews one of the pillars of his papacy. His successor, Benedict XVI, continued dialogue with the Jews but also made several policy decisions that angered Jews, including lifting the excommunication of a renegade bishop who turned out to be a Holocaust denier.

Francis projects a “man of the people” style in sharp contrast to Benedict, who was seen as removed and cold. Francis is known for living simply, taking the subway and answering his own phone. He spent virtually his entire career in Argentina, away from the intrigues of the Vatican’s Roman Curia — the central governing body of the Catholic Church — and other scandals that dogged the papacy of his predecessor.

However, within days of the new pope's election, the Vatican faced questions about what Francis did — and did not do — to oppose the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Critics have said the church did not do enough to oppose the military dictatorship's Dirty War, including the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests in 1976. Francis has said he worked behind the scenes to free the priests and sheltered others by hiding them at a Jesuit school.

The questions about Francis' past carry echoes of the Holocaust-era controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII. Many Jews charge that Pius did not do enough to oppose the Nazis, but the Vatican and Pius' proponents say he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

While a staunch conservative on social issues such as gay marriage, female priests and abortion, Francis spent years working among the poor and made interfaith outreach one of his priorities.

“The Latin American Jewish Congress has had a close relationship with Monsignor Jorge Bergoglio for many years,” said Claudio Epelman, executive director of the congress. “We know his virtues and have no doubt whatsoever that he will do an excellent job for the church.”

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, his relationship with Argentinian Jews was personal as well as institutional.

His only book, “Regarding Heaven and Earth,” is the transcript of wide-ranging conversations between himself and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary. Francis and the rabbi also shared billing on an Argentinian TV talk show on religious issues.

Francis has referred to Skorka as his “brother and friend.” The then-cardinal attended services at Skorka’s synagogue and also arranged for Skorka to receive an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Argentina.

Francis also wrote the foreword to a book by another Buenos Aires rabbi and civic activist, Sergio Bergman.

“Bergoglio is a master,” Bergman wrote in the Argentinian media after Francis’ election. “True to my Jewish roots and rabbinical vocation, inside my home community and the entire Argentine society, I found in Francis a teacher who heard me, guided me and advised me on how to deploy my vocation to serve both the Creator and his creatures in defiance of common good.”

Last December, Bergoglio joined Bergman and other Jewish leaders and representatives of other faiths in lighting the Hanukkah candles.

Francis is cited with particular warmth by Argentinian Jews for showing solidarity with the Jewish community following the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that left 85 dead. The attack, Francis told the Argentinian media, was “another link in the chain of pain and persecution that God’s chosen people has suffered throughout history.”

In 2005, he signed a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case and a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures.” In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.

“The closeness between Francis and the Jewish community is special and precious,” Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, vice president of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, told JTA.

Bretton-Granatoor, who is based in New York but has met Francis a couple of times, called the new pope “a mensch” who “gets the importance of a relationship with the Jewish community, who understands the meaning of the Shoah and has a heart in the right place on a number of issues that concern us as well.”

Obviously, he added, “we will vigorously disagree with him on many fundamental issues as well — but that is part of the game, isn't it?”

Pope Benedict XVI to resign, citing frailty

Pope Benedict shocked the world on Monday by saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to cope with his ministry, in an announcement that left his aides “incredulous” and will make him the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages.

The German-born Pope, 85, admired as a hero by conservative Roman Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, told cardinals in Latin that his strength had deteriorated recently. He will step down on Feb. 28 and the Vatican expects a new Pope to be chosen by the end of March.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope had not decided to resign because of “difficulties in the papacy” and the move had been a surprise, indicating that even his inner circle was unaware that he was about to quit.

The Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation, the spokesman said.

The Pope's leadership of 1.2 billion Catholics has been beset by child sexual abuse crises that tarnished the Church, one address in which he upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.

The pope told the cardinals that in order to govern “…both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.”

He also referred to “today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.”

The last Pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months, his resignation was known as “the great refusal” and was condemned by the poet Dante in the “Divine Comedy”. Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the papacy.


Before he was elected Pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known by such critical epithets as “God's rottweiler” because of his stern stand on theological issues.

But after several years into his new job Benedict showed that he not only did not bite but barely even barked.

In recent months, the pope has looked increasingly frail in public, sometimes being helped to walk by those around him.

Lombardi ruled out depression or uncertainty as being behind the resignation, saying the move was not due to any specific illness, just advancing age.

The Pope had shown “great courage, determination” aware of the “great problems the church faces today”, he said, adding the timing may have reflected the Pope's desire to avoid the exhausting rush of Easter engagements.

There was no outside pressure and Benedict took his “personal decision” in the last few months, he added.

Israel's Chief Rabbi praised Benedict's inter-faith outreach and wished him good health. The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church, said he had learned of the Pope's decision with a heavy heart but complete understanding.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Pope's decision must be respected if he feels he is too weak to carry out his duties. British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “He will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions.”

The pontiff would step down from 1900 GMT on Feb. 28, leaving the office vacant until a successor was chosen to Benedict who succeeded John Paul, one of history's most popular pontiffs, the spokesman said.

Elected to the papacy on April 19, 2005 when he was 78 – 20 years older than John Paul was when he was elected – Benedict ruled over a slower-paced, more cerebral and less impulsive Vatican.


But while conservatives cheered him for trying to reaffirm traditional Catholic identity, his critics accused him of turning back the clock on reforms by nearly half a century and hurting dialogue with Muslims, Jews and other Christians.

Under the German's meek demeanour lay a steely intellect ready to dissect theological works for their dogmatic purity and debate fiercely against dissenters.

After appearing uncomfortable in the limelight at the start, he began feeling at home with his new job and showed that he intended to be Pope in his way.

Despite great reverence for his charismatic, globe-trotting predecessor — whom he put on the fast track to sainthood and whom he beatified in 2011 — aides said he was determined not to change his quiet manner to imitate John Paul's style.

A quiet, professorial type who relaxed by playing the piano, he managed to show the world the gentle side of the man who was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer for nearly a quarter of a century.

The first German pope for some 1,000 years and the second non-Italian in a row, he travelled regularly, making about four foreign trips a year, but never managed to draw the oceanic crowds of his predecessor.

The child abuse scandals hounded most of his papacy. He ordered an official inquiry into abuse in Ireland, which led to the resignation of several bishops.


Scandal from a source much closer to home hit in 2012 when the pontiff's butler, responsible for dressing him and bringing him meals, was found to be the source of leaked documents alleging corruption in the Vatican's business dealings, causing an international furore.

He confronted his own country's past when he visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Calling himself “a son of Germany”, he prayed and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims, most of them Jews, died there during World War Two.

Ratzinger served in the Hitler Youth during World War Two when membership was compulsory. He was never a member of the Nazi party and his family opposed Adolf Hitler's regime.

But his trip to Germany also prompted the first major crisis of his pontificate. In a university lecture he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Islam had only brought evil to the world and that it was spread by the sword.

After protests that included attacks on churches in the Middle East and the killing of a nun in Somalia, the Pope later said he regretted any misunderstanding the speech caused.

In a move that was widely seen as conciliatory, in late 2006 he made a historic trip to predominantly Muslim Turkey and prayed in Istanbul's Blue Mosque with a Turkish Mufti.

But months later, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met the Pope and said wounds between Christians and Muslims were still “very deep” as a result of the Regensburg speech.

Editing by Ralph Boulton.  Writing by Peter Millership,; editing by Janet McBride and Ralph Boulton

Young Jews, Catholics to debate Passion Play

For the first time, young American Jews and German Catholics will formally debate the meaning of Germany’s controversial Passion Play at Oberammergau.

The traditional, notoriously anti-Semitic play about Jesus’ last days has undergone serious revisions since Catholic and Jewish leaders first discussed the matter some 40 years ago. The young people will analyze how the play has changed and assess the current performance.

The Americans’ trip May 6-16 is being co-sponsored by the New York-based American Jewish Committee and Germany Close Up, a Berlin-based program designed to introduce American Jews to modern Germany.

Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC associate director of interreligious and intergroup relations, said in a statement that the planned conference would help ensure “that the significant advances in Christian-Jewish understanding and cooperation are sustained and furthered.”

The Oberammergau Passion Play is repeated every 10 years with a new cast, director and stage designer. It has been a source of friction and unusual cooperation between Jewish and Catholic leaders, particularly since the liberalizing Vatican Council II (1962-65), when the Church officially warned against blaming Jews in eternity for the death of Jesus.

Over the decades, Church representatives have worked closely with American Jewish leaders to reshape the traditional text of the play to reflect modern sensibilities, with AJC’s former head of interreligious affairs, Rabbi James Rudin, at the forefront.

It is no mere intellectual exercise, Marans said in his statement.

“Passion plays, especially Oberammergau, the most influential of its genre in the world, can be troubling vehicles for anti-Judaism and, tragically, have inspired violence against Jews,” he said.

Hitler’s Pope Story a Myth, Rabbi Finds

“The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews From the Nazis” by Rabbi David G. Dalin (Regnery, $27.95).

In “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope,” Rabbi David G. Dalin has written an important, frank and lucid defense of an unfairly maligned figure of recent history. Dalin’s book clears up often-heard libels about the World War II papacy of Pius XII. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the role those libels play in the wider cultural context.

Dalin, a historian and political scientist, has here expanded on a series of essays written originally in 2001 in The Weekly Standard. At the time, a boatload of books defamed Pius as a Nazi sympathizer.

Notable among these anti-Pius tomes was John Cornwell’s “Hitler’s Pope” (1999), which featured on its cover a memorable photo of Pius exiting a building, seemingly saluted by Nazis soldiers. The photo was misidentified in the British printing of the book as depicting a scene in March 1939: “Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, leaving the presidential palace in Berlin.” The implication, as historian Philip Jenkins wrote, was that “Pacelli is emerging from a cozy tete-a-tete with Hitler — perhaps they have been chatting about plans for a new extermination camp.”

Which is utterly false and sadly typical. In fact, the photo was taken in 1927, when Pacelli was the papal nuncio in Berlin. He had just attended a reception for Germany’s democratically elected president, Paul von Hindenburg. Throughout his life, Pacelli refused to meet with Hitler. The soldiers in the picture, wearing the distinctive German helmets, are of constitutional Weimar, not totalitarian Nazi Germany.

But such has been the eagerness of the anti-Pius writers to bludgeon their alleged villain, that such distinctions tend to get lost. I’m not sure it’s true, as Dalin argues, that Pius saved more Jews than any other Righteous Gentile in World War II.

But it seems fairly certain that he was, overall, a strenuous defender of Jews who saved tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. While 80 percent of European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, 85 percent of Italian Jews survived, thanks in large part to the Vatican’s efforts.

At Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence, 3,000 Jews found refuge — a fact never mentioned in Cornwell’s anti-Pius writings or in those of Susan Zuccotti. Kosher food was served there, and Jewish babies were born in the pope’s private apartment, which had been transformed into an infirmary. At Seminario Romano, another Vatican property, 55 Jews remained in hiding from the Nazis, and, notes Dalin, “observance of the Jewish dietary laws was not only permitted but encouraged.”

Dalin includes references to numerous papers from the Vatican, along with memoirs of Holocaust survivors and non-Jewish rescuers, showing that Pius directly ordered church representatives across Europe to hide Jews and provide other forms of material sustenance, including cash. In Hungary alone, 170,000 Jews evaded Auschwitz because of Pius’ personal intervention.

Another Righteous Gentile of the era, Angelo Roncalli, who saved thousands of Slovakian Jews by signing their visas for immigration to Palestine (he later became Pope John XXIII), explained that “in all those painful matters, I referred to the Holy See and afterward I simply carried out the pope’s orders.”

Yet the myth that Pius did little or nothing to help Jews or oppose Hitler persists. A purported smoking gun is a letter written by Pacelli in 1919, when he was papal nuncio to Bavaria, about the brief, Jewish-led communist uprising in Munich. A few lines refer to one Jewish communist as “pale, dirty, with vacant eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulse, with a face that is both intelligent and sly.”

Anti-Pius writers assert that the text betrays hints of anti-Semitism. But as evidence, this is pathetic. The Bolshevik revolutionaries had threatened Pacelli’s life on various occasions. If he wrote something insulting about their leader, who can blame him?

Recently, Cornwell has decided that he, for his part, can no longer blame Pius for Nazi deeds. Cornwell’s honorable about-face has, however, received much less attention than his earlier assault on the pope’s memory.

It’s as though there’s an impulse in the culture that resists acknowledging anything honorable or good in the history of the Catholic church. Dalin traces this resistance to internal feuds within the church itself, pitting modernists against conservatives. To degrade Pius is, in this view, to strike a blow at the church establishment today, which remains, of course, famously conservative.

This doesn’t explain the desire among many Jews to believe only the worst about the Catholic church. The myth of Hitler’s pope, qualifies as a subspecies of the myth of the eternally anti-Semitic church.

Why so many Jews appear so determined to see only guilt in Catholic — and Christian — history is a question I’ve thought about for years. So many Christians are friends to Jews, and the Catholic church of today espouses a remarkably philo-Semitic theology. But following centuries of humiliation of our ancestors, many of us still feel humiliated, still feel a need to lash out.

Why? Probably because of the breakdown among Jews of our traditional beliefs and culture, leaving American Jews estranged from our own religion. Jewish cultural poverty appears to be the cause of Jewish resentment of others who have not lost their religious traditions.

Of this tragic dynamic in the life of our people, Pius XII is not really the victim. He is, after all, dead. The real victims are Jews, only we don’t know it.

David Klinghoffer’s most recent book is “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History” (Doubleday).

Polish City Unveils Its Jewish History

Czestochowa is known around the world as the site of the Jasna Góra Monastery, a pilgrimage place for Poles and other Catholics who flock there to see the famous painting of the Black Madonna.

Soon, residents also will be able to learn about local Jewish history. An exhibition on the subject, based on materials from the town archives, will open for a three-month run later this month in Czestochowa, before traveling to several larger Polish cities.

Behind the newfound interest in Czestochowa’s Jews is a long story of cooperation. Two years ago, Jerzy Mizgalski, historian and dean of the local Pedagogical Institute, was doing research in the city archives, when he found thousands of documents and photographs dating as far back as 1618 connected to Czestochowa’s Jewish history.

He elicited the help of Elizabeth Mundlak, a professor of thermodynamics living in Venezuela, who was born to Jewish parents in Czestochowa and rescued by Christians during the Holocaust. Together, they conceived of an exhibition to display the archives and tell the story of the Jewish history of Czestochowa.

Before World War II, Czestochowa was home to 30,000 Jews, about one-third of the city’s population. Today there are 37 Jews living in the city.

After his find in the municipal archives, Mizgalski decided to teach a course on Jewish history, expecting about 35 students — but 400 signed up.

Mizgalski and Mundlak moved forward with their plans for the exhibition, and Mundlak approached two American businessmen and cousins, Sigmund Rolat and Alan Silberstein, to underwrite the project. The exhibition is co-sponsored by the city of Czestochowa and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

Three days after the Germans invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, launching World War II, they were in Czestochowa, Silberstein said. During the war, the city was a centralized concentration point where Jews living in smaller towns were sent.

A large ghetto was established, and then a smaller one which eventually was liquidated. Jews were deported mostly to the Treblinka concentration camp, but some were put in the HASAG forced labor camp in Czestochowa.

With no precedent for an event that encompasses such a long history in Czestochowa, the group was free to be creative. They wanted to be sure that the archives showed the broad range of Jewish people and practices, from the more "quaint, religious" Jews to the fully assimilated ones, like Rolat.

"I was called a goy," Rolat remembers.

The team obtained the help of Czestochowa’s mayor, Tadeusz Wrona, who said, "It’s important for the younger generation to look at the past and future, a future that should be created together. We should look not to a future concentrating on prejudice and stereotypes but creating a future free of this."

The mayor agreed to use city funds to help restore the local Jewish cemetery.

The cemetery is accessed through the gates of the large steel mill that grew up around it, and which has afforded it a measure of protection. A month ago, the cemetery was "a jungle," said Rolat. Now, workers are clearing trees and cleaning the landscape in a way not to disturb the graves.

The restoration comes just in time for the exhibition, which will open April 21 for three months and then travel to Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw. The exhibition and accompanying academic symposium are titled, "Coexistence, Holocaust, Memory."

In addition to the rededicating of the cemetery, events will include a film premiere, Klezmer music, a military commemoration ceremony and a performance by the Czestochowa Symphony Orchestra, which will take place in what is now Philharmonic Hall. Before it was burned in World War II, the philharmonic building was the New Synagogue.

Above all, the backers hope to convey a program that is about Jewish life, not Jewish death.

Standing in the cemetery, Mizgalski said, "You can’t talk about the history of a Polish city without mentioning the one-third that were Jewish. The Germans wanted the memory of Jews to be erased. But we’re not allowed to forget."

For more information, contact Stan Steinreich at (212) 786-6077 or (201) 982-2373.

Jesus’ Death Now Debated by Jews

The controversy over Mel Gibson’s upcoming film about the death of Jesus has spurred painful exchanges between Jews and Christians and progressive and traditional Catholics in recent days. To date, the debates have centered on the “proper” interpretation of the role of Jews in Jesus’ Crucifixion, as presented in the four Gospels.

But this week, Gibson’s $25 million biblical epic, which the director insists is about love and forgiveness, has triggered a new squabble — among Jewish scholars.

The texts in question are not in the Christian Bible but rather passages long-censored (by Christian authorities) about Jesus from the Talmud, the encyclopedia of Jewish law and tradition considered sacred by traditional Jews.

Raising the issue is an article by Steven Bayme, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJCommittee) national director of contemporary Jewish life, which declares that Jews must face up to the fact that the talmudic narrative “does clearly demonstrate…fourth century rabbinic willingness to take responsibility for the execution of Jesus.”

“Jewish apologetics that ‘we could not have done it’ because of Roman sovereignty ring hollow when one examines the talmudic account,” Bayme said.

He contends that Jewish interfaith representatives are not being honest in dialogue if they ignore the explicit talmudic references to Jesus.

His article was posted on the AJCommittee’s Web site last week, then removed after a Jewish Week reporter’s inquiry.

Ken Bandler, a spokesman for the AJCommittee, said the article was taken down to “avoid confusion” over whether it represented the organization’s official position. AJCommittee officials now refer to the article as “an internal document.”

Some Jewish scholars and interfaith officials were upset with the article, either questioning Bayme’s scholarship or his timing — saying this was a particularly delicate time to call attention to Jews’ role in Jesus’ death — or both.

But Bayme was unswayed. Citing the continuing controversy over Gibson’s “The Passion,” which has reignited concern over Christianity’s ancient charge against Jews as “Christ-killers,” he wrote that it is also important “that Jews confront their own tradition and ask how Jewish sources treated the Jesus narrative.”

Bayme cites a passage from the Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, which relates the fate of a man called Jesus who is hanged on the eve of Passover for practicing sorcery and leading the people of Israel astray.

When no one comes forward to defend the accused sorcerer during a 40-day reprieve, Jewish authorities put him to death, despite Jesus’ “connections with the government.” The Talmud cites this incident during a discussion of due process and capital punishment in Jewish law.

Bayme acknowledges that the passage was written by talmudic scholars in Babylon, who lived about 400 years after Jesus.

“To be sure, historians cannot accept such a text uncritically,” Bayme wrote.

But he says the passage is significant because the talmudic text “indicates rabbinic willingness to acknowledge, at least in principle, that in a Jewish court and in a Jewish land, a real-life Jesus would indeed have been executed.

“No effort is made to pin his death upon the Romans,” Bayme said. “Pointedly, Jews did not argue that crucifixion was a Roman punishment and therefore, no Jewish court could have advocated it.”

Bayme told The Jewish Week he wrote the piece for two reasons: to educate Jews and promote honest dialogue with Christians.

He cited the Catholic Church’s 1965 statement that Jesus’ death “cannot be blamed upon all Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.”

Bayme said Gibson’s movie “has alienated many Jewish leaders who correctly worry whether the movie’s graphic description of the Crucifixion and its alleged overtones of a Jewish conspiracy to kill Jesus may ignite long-dormant Christian hostilities to Jews.”

That’s why the Gospel and its association with anti-Semitism need to be confronted as well as Jewish sources, he said. But Bayme stressed that he is not suggesting a moral equivalency between problematic anti-Semitic Gospel passages “which have caused the death of Jews” and the talmudic Jesus references.

Indeed, the Catholic Church, which burned copies of the Talmud in the Middle Ages, officially censored the Talmud’s Jesus references in the 13th century. Even today the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud omits any discussion about “Yeshu,” Jesus in Hebrew.

The Jesus omissions began to be restored in the last century, Bayme said. And the passages “are now included in most of the new printings of the Talmud,” said Yisrael Shaw of Daf Yomi Discussions, an on-line Talmud service.

“If you do an Internet search for Sanhedrin 43a, you will find that it is one of the favorite sources of the Christians to use as proof of the Jewish murder and hatred of their god,” Shaw said.

But Bayme is concerned that Jews know nothing about the censored texts.

“Whenever I talked about the origins of Christianity with fellow Jews, I discovered massive ignorance of Jewish narratives concerning the death of Jesus. It’s something I thought Jews ought to confront fairly,” he said.

Bayme contends the talmudic text resonates with the Gospel accounts for several reasons. He said the talmudic charge of practicing sorcery and seducing Israel into apostasy, a biblical capital crime, matches recently discovered “hidden Gospels” that “a historical Jesus was indeed a first century sorcerer.”

“A mature relationship between two faiths should allow for each faith to … uncover these texts and view them critically,” Bayme said.

But some disagreed with Bayme’s analysis and policy suggestion.

His own organization pulled the piece only a couple of days after it was posted, though AJCommittee Associate Executive Director Shula Bahat defended it as a teaching tool.

Rabbi David Rosen, the group’s director of interreligious affairs, said Bayme’s views were not the “official AJC position” concerning the trial of Jesus.

He called the talmudic text historically “dubious” and questioned Bayme’s connecting the text with the Gospel stories, noting the actual charge against Jesus and the nature of the court “is in conflict.”

Some outside specialists also refuted Bayme’s article.

Brooklyn College history professor Rabbi David Berger, a specialist in Christian-Jewish issues, said it would be a mistake and diversion to bring the talmudic texts into the interfaith dialogue.

“The Second Vatican council properly rejected collective Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion, even though it affirmed that some Jews were involved,” he said. “Consequently, raising the question of the historical involvement of Jews, with or without reference to talmudic texts, diverts us from the key issue, which is the denial of contemporary Jewish culpability for these events.”

He noted that in the Middle Ages, “most Jews assumed that Jews executed Jesus of Nazareth based on these talmudic passages, though some asserted that the Jesus of Talmud is not the same as the Jesus of Christianity.”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, whose Talmud edition has been translated into English, Russian and Spanish, said he believed the talmudic Jesus is probably not the Christian Jesus.

“It could very well be somebody else” who lived 100 or 200 years earlier because the stories don’t match the Gospel account, he said.

Steinsaltz noted that the Hebrew name Yeshu was popular back then and that “stories about the resurrection of dead leaders are a dime a dozen, before Jesus and after him. This is not a historical issue.”

In any case, Steinsaltz said Christians would do best to avoid these texts because there is nothing politically or theologically significant to them in Jewish tradition.

Ellis Rivkin, professor emeritus of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and author of the seminal book “What Crucified Jesus,” said dragging in the Talmud text is “dangerous, utterly meaningless and irrelevant.”

But Dr. David Kraemer, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, supported Bayme’s call for honesty about Jewish texts and Jesus.

“I think it’s very relevant to bring up evidence of the difficulty of our relationship with Christianity,” he said, contending that it is indeed Jesus of Nazareth in the text. Kraemer believes the text was written at a time of fierce competition between the early rabbis and Christian leaders in the early centuries of the Common Era.

“The attitudes expressed [in the Talmud] can be pretty hateful attitudes,” he said. “It’s not about comparing them [with the anti-Semitic Gospel passages]. Just because you can’t equate them doesn’t mean you can’t raise the issues.”

Originally printed in The Jewish Week,

King and Heschel Remembered

There is a famous picture taken in Selma, Ala., in 1965 at
the site of a historic civil rights march for voter registration.

Abraham Joshua Heschel is marching in line with Martin
Luther King Jr. and a number of other key civil rights demonstrators. At the
end of the demonstration, a journalist asked Heschel to describe his feelings
about marching with King. He answered: “My feet were praying.”

Heschel was prominent as a scholar, teacher and theologian,
and widely respected because of his numerous publications. He was also well
known as a result of his participation in Vatican II. Vatican II was the
gathering in the early 1960s during which the Catholic Church introduced many
significant internal changes. One of the changes included a historical
reckoning: a formal process was begun that would eventually lead to the public
announcement by the Church that “the Jews” did not kill Christ. From his
participation in Vatican II, Heschel received the nickname from Catholics
throughout the world of “Father Abraham.”

Heschel descended from a long line of Chasidic rebbes. In
his adolescent years, he left the world of Chasidism and chose to embrace a
more historical approach to Jewish tradition. In his later years, though, when
he became a teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (and when
the famous picture of King and himself was taken in Selma), he looked like
someone from his ancestry. He had a long gray beard, long gray hair and always
wore a yarmulke.

The picture of King and Heschel marching together in Selma
has become something of an icon. It represents the pride American Jews feel
having played, as a group, a prominent role in the civil rights movement.

According to Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, who is a
professor of history and religion at Dartmouth College, her father and King
were close friends during the last five years of King’s life. During this
period, they had a profound influence on one another. When King’s funeral
arrangements needed to be made, Heschel was one of the first individuals, among
all the dignitaries and officials who spoke at this historic event, that
Coretta Scott King specifically requested to deliver a eulogy.

In an essay Susannah Heschel wrote in the Journal of
Conservative Judaism in the spring of 1998, she points out something
interesting in King’s speeches. In his early years, particularly before January
of 1963 when Heschel and King formally met, King evoked images in his speeches
of the Christian Bible and of traditional Christian commentators. After King
and Heschel became acquainted, the dominant biblical metaphor in King’s
speeches changed. He now emphasized the Exodus from Egypt.

The second most commonly used biblical metaphor became the
prophet, specifically the call of the biblical prophets for social justice.
Susannah Heschel interprets this fact as no coincidence. When Heschel earned a
doctorate at the University of Berlin in the early 1930s, he wrote his
dissertation on The Prophets.

King did not need Heschel to teach him about biblical
events. He did need Heschel, though, to emphasize the power that these biblical
metaphors contained, that these metaphors were inherently more inclusive and
could be used to gain the broadest segment of support from the American public.

Heschel was one of the first prominent Americans to publicly
fulminate against United States participation in the war in Southeast Asia. It
is documented that he encouraged King in public discussions and in written
correspondence to take a public stand against this war.

Twenty-nine years ago, died on the 18th day of the Hebrew
month of Tevet. Tevet is a month that comes during the winter season. It often
corresponds with January, the month in which Americans pay tribute to King with
a national holiday. It is appropriate that the birthday of King and the
yahrtzeit of Heschel come at this time of year. The example of their leadership
continues to cast light on our dark struggling society.

Elliot Fein teaches high school students Jewish studies at the Tarbut V’Torah Community School in Irvine.

Bologna, Italy — A Cut Above

So you’ve roamed the Coliseum, marveled at Florentine art and gamboled in gondolas and you’re ready for a different side of Italy. Or perhaps you’re about to dip a toe into Italian culture, including its little-known Jewish heritage, for the first time.

Try Bologna.

Bologna? Forget every joke you’ve ever heard about cheap cold cuts.

Roughly midway between two better-known tourist magnets, Florence to the south and Venice to the northeast, this pulse-center of Italy’s Emilia Romagna region has much to offer the traveler.

Think medieval palaces, leaning towers, arched porticoes, gleaming shop windows and the urbane feeling of Europe’s oldest university town nestled in a region that has given birth to such gastronomic delights as Parmesan, balsamic vinegar and sparkling ruby-tinted Lambrusco wines.

Imagine memorable meals in restaurants just a quick walk from a charming piazza. And everywhere the warm terra-cotta of stone and paint.

Bologna is red in more ways than one. The city has a bit of the rebel in its soul.

Alongside Piazza Maggiore, the old city’s main square, stands the gothic Church of St. Petronio, a populist tribute to Bologna’s patron saint, designed to surpass Rome’s St. Peter’s that is, until the medieval Vatican curbed it to a fraction of its planned splendor.

Centuries later, during World War II, Emilia Romagna became a hotbed of the anti-fascist resistance movement, which included such local Jews as attorney Mario Iacchia and Franco Cesana, reputedly the youngest partisan in Italy.

Today, graffiti calling for gay rights and other causes, especially in the university quarter, reflect a continued atmosphere of activism. And left-wing politicos held sway at Bologna’s city hall from the close of World War II until this year’s June elections, when a center-right candidate won the day.

Jews have been a part of the city’s heady blend since at least the third and fourth century C.E. Jewish silk makers and, after the advent of Guttenberg’s press, book publishers flourished in their first millennium there.

Bologna’s first printer of Hebrew kept shop in the Via degli Albari, says Jewish community president and amateur historian Lucio Pardo.

In 1556, Jews were forced into a separate quarter, locked each nightfall. You can still walk the narrow alleys of the medieval ghetto on streets that reflect this harrowing history: Via de Giudei (Jews’ Street), Via dell’ Inferno (Hell Street).

Later, a series of expulsions and short-lived homecomings kept Jews alternately crammed in their quarter and scattered to other cities.

Today, a plaque at 20 Via dell’ Inferno pays homage to the victims of the 20th century’s Nazi genocide. The community’s center has moved to Via de’ Gombruti and Via Mario Finzi, where the synagogue, rebuilt after World War II, features a large, modern stained-glass window crowned by a gold menorah.

A state-of-the-art Jewish Museum at Via Valdonica 1/5 explores Judaic history, with a special emphasis on Emilia Romagna, in three media: written panels with timelines, video films and online stations with 700 links.

Over the centuries, area Jews have devised their own variations on local dishes, says Franca Romano, a Bologna hostess. For instance, melanzane con melone (eggplant with cantaloupe) substitutes sautéed pieces of the flavorful vegetable for the prosciutto used by non-Jews. Scodelline, a delicious almond pudding, is a traditional Passover dessert. A kosher cafeteria may be found at Via de’ Gombruti 9, in the Jewish community center.

"En Bologna, la tavola no e sola a mangiare" ("In Bologna, the dinner table isn’t just for eating"), says Domenico Abato, the head of the local merchants association, who fondly recalls enjoying a sociable meal after each set of university exams.

Porticoes and cookery aside, is there a downside to Bologna? You may find some prices higher than in Rome, says one veteran traveler. And the narrow portico-covered streets can seem like speedways, as the city’s stylish citizens go buzzing by on their motorbikes.

But these problems pale in comparison with the opportunity to watch the sunset from the cobble-stoned expanse of the Piazza Maggiore, to sample the savory fare at local restaurants, to explore the city’s museums and palazzos.

A day trip northeast to Ferrara, home to the famous Finzi-Contini clan, offers a journey into the drama of medieval times.

In 1492, the town’s noble Este family offered protection to Jews fleeing Spain. The imposing Castello Estense still remains, as does Via Mazzini, Via Vittoria and other now-picturesque streets of the Jewish ghetto that endured from the early 1600s until 1859.

Facing the town cathedral is the Colonna di Borso, a pillar with a statue of Duke Borso d’Este at the top, which upon its renovation in the 1960s, was discovered to include tombstones from a Jewish cemetery sacked in 1716.

The Jewish center at 95 Via Mazzini contains an Ashkenazi synagogue still in use today. Upstairs, the frescoed remains of the former Italian-style synagogue, gutted by Nazi bombing, hint at its former opulence.

Also housed in the center is Ferrara’s Jewish Museum, which showcases a variety of Judaica from a colorful carved ark to illuminated manuscripts to the rusty iron keys that once locked the ghetto’s gates.

In Nonantola, northwest of Bologna, one can revisit an episode of small-town heroism. During World War II, Delasem, a local Zionist group, used the grand Villa Emma, on the community’s outskirts, as a way-station for Jewish refugees en route to Palestine.

After the arrival of close to 100 children there, activists such as Bologna’s Mario Finzi set up a kibbutz-like organization to teach the youngsters basic skills. This near-idyllic situation lasted a year or so, until Nazi troops marched into the area in 1943.

Then local Catholics stepped in, led by town doctor Giuseppe Moreali and a priest, the Rev. Don Arrigo Beccari (both later honored as Righteous Gentiles at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial), to hide and later spirit away to freedom all but one of the children.

Today, the Villa Emma Foundation, launched by Nonantola’s mayor, Stefano Vaccari, promotes peace and Holocaust education.

After your rambles, it’s worth a stop at Nonantola’s Ristorante Sta. Maria Fuori Le Mure, which features the Parmesan of nearby Parma or Modena, along with salads and pastas such as tortellini with ricotta and spinach. And you can top it all off with the heavenly semifredi limone e fruti di bosco, a wedge of lemon mousse encircled by a pool of black raspberry sauce.

The tour of Bologna and its environs was made possible
by Italy Italy Enterprises, .