Recall in our previous post, the 'Oral' Nostra Aetate, Rabbi Noah Marans explains to his listeners that Nostra Aetate and the actions of the post-Vatican II pontiffs such as; visiting synagogues, taking trips to Israel, participating in Talmudic Jewish religious rituals, constant Talmudic-Vatican dialogue, and inviting rabbis to the Vatican are the Catholic religion's Oral Torah or Talmud. The Talmud, need we remind the reader, is rabbis nullifying God's Laws. So using logic, one should expect Francis to nullify the traditions of the Faith given to us by Jesus the Christ as well as the New Testament.
quotes taken from: AJC, The Pope Francis Effect and Catholic-Jewish Relations by Noam E. Marans
In evaluating the trajectory of Catholic-Jewish Relations in the Pope Francis era, one picture is worth a thousand words. Pope Francis has identified Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion as one of his favorite paintings. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht in 1938, when hundreds of European synagogues were torched, foreshadowing greater evil yet to come, Chagall artistically interpreted the threat of Nazism within the continuum of anti-Semitism. A “Jewish Jesus” is on the cross, wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) loincloth and surrounded by scenes of persecuted and fleeing Jews. A synagogue and its Torah scrolls are engulfed in flames, torched by a Nazi brownshirt. Using conflicting imagery, Chagall delivers his warning: the Jews who were persecuted as Christ-killers are now crucified as Jesus the Jew once was.
Pope Francis did not hesitate to publicly herald a painting featuring a syncretistic “Jewish Jesus” that certainly has the potential to offend, notwithstanding the facts of Jesus’ historic Jewishness and the painter’s Jewish identity. It speaks volumes about Francis’ empathy with the Jewish people and lack of concern that his admiration for the painting might be controversial or misinterpreted. And the absence of negative reaction from the Jewish community to Francis’ fondness for this painting demonstrates a Jewish comfort level with this pope that may be unique. Certainly, Francis’ interest in the painting suggests the significant role that the trauma of the Holocaust plays in his theological and interreligious thinking.
Pope Francis enjoys well-documented positive relationships with Argentinian-Jewish leaders, particularly rabbis. He publicly celebrates his friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Their rabbi–priest conversations, part of a television series, were adapted into the one and only book, On Heaven and Earth, authored by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future pope, before his ascent to the papacy.
There is no papal precedent for the frequency and intensity of Francis’ engagement with the Jewish people through meetings, gestures, and formal and informal pronouncements and teachings. On the day of his election he initiated a warm exchange with the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Dr. Riccardo Di Segni. At his installation a few days later, the pope singled out for welcome the Jewish leaders in attendance with the phrase, “the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities.”
In Francis’ characteristic yet remarkable interaction with Eugenio Scalfari, the self-described non-believer and co-founder and former editor of La Republica, the pope wrote,
With the help of God, especially since the Second Vatican Council, we have rediscovered that the Jewish people remain for us the holy root from which Jesus was born.... As my mind turned to the terrible experience of the Shoah, I looked to God. What I can tell you, with Saint Paul, is that God has never neglected his faithfulness to the covenant with Israel, and that, through the awful trials of these last centuries, the Jews have preserved their faith in God. And for this, we, the Church and the whole human family, can never be sufficiently grateful to them.In a letter to La Republica, Chief Rabbi Di Segni, who is known to set cautious limits to interreligious dialogue, wrote, “This pontiff does not cease to surprise.” While acknowledging that Francis’ sentiments are not new to the Catholic Church, Di Segni nonetheless exclaimed, “It is the force with which he expresses them and his capacity of communicating them that is astounding.” The profound truth in this observation is applicable as well to Pope Francis’ wider ability to resuscitate the Church. Without minimizing the positive content of the pope’s statements, it is often the way he says things more than the content of his utterances that has brought a new spirit to the Church.
Beginning with his first audience at the Vatican with representatives of the international Jewish community, when Pope Francis greeted an International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) delegation, he has repeatedly characterized Christian anti-Semitism as both sinful and absurd. In the official Vatican English translation of his June 24, 2013 address in Italian to the IJCIC delegation, an exclamation point accentuates the salient sentence: “Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!”12 Christian anti-Semitism is self-denial or self-hate, argues Pope Francis, because there is no Christianity without Judaism first. The pope recently reiterated this teaching during an interview with the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Achronot. He said, “Anti-Semitism is a sin…Our roots are in Judaism.”
More dramatically, the now legendary September 2013 Jewish holiday experience at Francis’ Vatican was reported in depth by his good friend, Rabbi Skorka. Skorka visited with Pope Francis during Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and Shabbat, and described the scene:
I eat with him at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. He cares for me, and controls everything regarding my food to make sure it is all kosher, and according to my religious tradition. These are festive days, and I have to say certain prayers at meals and, I expand the last prayer and translate it. He accompanies me together with the others at the table—his secretaries and a bishop—and they all say “Amen” at the end.Can we safely presume that this scene is unprecedented in papal history?
Although Francis’ gestures are important, it is the formal teaching of the Magisterium that will have the most lasting effect beyond his tenure. His first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), a 224-page document, briefly but powerfully addresses interreligious dialogue. In a section entitled “Relations with Judaism,” Francis writes,
Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.Rabbi David Rosen, my AJC colleague and the leading Jewish dialogue partner with the three most recent popes, put Evangelii Gaudium in historic context. “His emphasis on the ongoing Divine Presence in the life of the Jewish People and on the importance of the ‘values of Judaism’ for Christians is particularly significant in further advancing the historic transformation in the Catholic Church’s approach towards the Jewish people,” said Rosen.
Pope Francis wasted little time in affirming the centrality of Holocaust commemoration and the importance of the State of Israel to Jews, Catholics, and Catholic-Jewish relations. Following in the footsteps of his two predecessors but prioritizing it earlier in his papal travel schedule, Francis made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a state visit to Israel.
At a moving encounter at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, Francis “humbly bowed to kiss the hands of Holocaust survivors,” and offered an elegiac homily concluding with, “Adam, ‘where are you?’ Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing.”
Francis was the first pontiff to visit and lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. The drama of history was not lost upon those who remembered Herzl’s diary post describing his 1904 audience with Pope Pius X, when he entreated Catholicism’s leader to support the Zionist effort to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Herzl set down Pius X’s response:
We cannot give approval to this movement. We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem— but we could never sanction it. The soil of Jerusalem, if it was not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church I cannot tell you anything different. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people.
As a result of the unprecedented nature of Francis’ positive history and interactions with the Jewish community past and present, the Francis effect has arguably had a more significant impact upon Catholic-Jewish relations than in other arenas...Whatever disagreements might arise between Catholics and Jews, it is clear in the post-Nostra Aetate era, even more so in the Francis era, that differences will be resolved, or at least discussed, among friends, and Pope Francis is certainly a friend.
But the promise of Francis’ pontificate remains most alluring. There has long been concern that the advances in Catholic-Jewish relations taken for granted in Europe and even more so in the United States may be harder to achieve elsewhere, especially where there are few Jews. A pope whose background is so different from his predecessors and speaks Spanish as his mother tongue might have the ability to reach more broadly with the message of Nostra Aetate and expand this golden age of Catholic-Jewish relations.
When an AJC delegation met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in February 2014, we presented him with a copy of the Jewish Museum exhibit book inside an artistic and inscribed gift box. We showed him page 105 of the exquisite volume, where a print of White Crucifixion is included. Francis was moved by our recognition of his emotional connection to the painting and responded with a joyous smile.
With Pope Francis, Catholic-Jewish relations have entered a new stage, normalization. It is all very natural, without premeditation. It is therefore most appropriate that the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate will be commemorated and celebrated during Francis’ pontificate, emblematic of the maturity of this cherished interreligious relationship between sibling faiths.