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September 22, 2015

Pope Francis From a Jewish Perspective

By Jonathan Green­blatt
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Pope Francis, right, welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Ettore Ferrari, Pool)

Pope Francis, right, welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Ettore Ferrari, Pool)


Pope Francis is about to embark on his first official visit to the United States. In a short period of time, this pontiff has emerged as a remarkable leader whose compassion and inclusivity have inspired people around the world. His recent call for all Catholic institutions in Europe to take in refugees is but the latest example of his commitment to the most vulnerable in society.

He also is someone whom the Jewish community has admired and considered a friend and partner for many years. True to form, during his visit to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City, the pope will be meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, along with other religious leader, and will convene an Interfaith Peace Gathering at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.

This first visit offers an opportunity for an assessment of Pope Francis and his papacy thus far from a Jewish perspective.

This pope probably knows Jews more intimately than any pope in history.

In his native Argentina, the man once known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was no stranger to that country’s large and active Jewish community. He struck up a warm friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of a rabbinic seminary in Buenos Aires. Together they co-authored “On Heaven and Earth,” an important book on interfaith relations.

Since his election, Pope Francis consistently has spoken in clear terms about the theological significance of Jews and Judaism for Catholics. And he has been outspoken against anti-Semitism. As recently as April the pope unequivocally decried anti-Semitic violence and rhetoric in Europe. Referring to attacks on Jews in France, Belgium and Germany as “troubling,” he said that Christians “must be firm in deploring all forms of anti-Semitism, and in showing their solidarity with the Jewish people.”

Francis has said repeatedly that one cannot be a good Catholic and an anti-Semite. And at a time when Israel is under growing assault by those who question the sovereign Jewish State’s very right to exist, the pontiff has made clear that the refusal to accept Israel as the rightful home of the Jewish people is “anti-Semitism.”

It is truly remarkable to think about the revolutionary transformation that has taken place in the Catholic Church over the last 50 years in terms of the leadership’s attitudes toward and teachings about the Jewish people. Launched during the Vatican Council in 1965, “Nostra Aetate” or “In Our Time,” was a groundbreaking document that made clear for the first time in church history that Jews should not be held responsible for the death of Jesus.

This overturned nearly two millennia of church teaching that portrayed Judaism as a corrupt and corrupting religion and Jews as enemies of Christ who were in league with the Devil.  As a result, Jews were often the target of persecution expulsion and murder. These negative images of Jews provided fertile soil for the racial anti-Semitism that arose in the 19th century and ultimately for Hitler’s Final Solution.

In this light, Nostra Aetate’s unequivocal repudiation of anti-Semitism and the positive approach to Judaism and the Jewish people that has characterized the church in the decades since its publication are game-changers.

Pope Francis is continuing the work started by his predecessors, particularly Pope John Paul II, who made the teachings against anti-Semitism and respect for Judaism come alive within the church in both word and deed.  As we have seen, Pope Francis is not just paying lip service to those reforms – he is embracing them wholeheartedly.

And yet, there is still work to be done.

We know from public opinion surveys that anti-Semitism is enjoying a disturbing resurgence around the world, and majority Catholic countries are no exception. In Latin America, where in some countries Catholics comprise more than 90 percent of the adult population, anti-Semitic attitudes are shockingly pervasive. In Colombia, the number rises to 41 percent; in Panama, anti-Jewish attitudes rank at 52 percent of the adult population. In the pope’s native Argentina, nearly 24 percent of the adult population harbors anti-Semitic attitudes, which is more than double that of the U.S.  Poland, the home of Pope John Paul II, has a rate of 45 percent.

Such anti-Semitism may in part be attributed to longstanding church teachings that have carried on in those countries despite the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council.

And we still are waiting for the church to open its World War II archives so that a more complete picture of the Vatican’s actions during the Holocaust can emerge.

There have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, moments of disagreement and points of tension between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church.

But we welcome Pope Francis to the U.S., and we commend him for his leadership and his commitment to Jewish-Catholic relations. We are confident that he will continue to remind Catholics of the teachings of Nostra Aetate.

In a world in which religion is often seen as a cause of conflict, the 50th anniversary of the new relationship between Jews and Catholics, and a pope who embodies them, demonstrates that change and reconciliation are achievable and that even a centuries-old enmity can be overcome.

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April 4, 2014

Coalition Promotes Expanded Religious Accommodation In The Military

On January 22, 2014 the Department of Defense (DoD) published an updated and revised Instruction 1300.17–Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military ServicesThe new guidance, which describes policy, procedures, and responsibilities for the accommodation of religious practices in the Armed Forces, was designed “to ensure the protection of rights of conscience of members of the Armed Forces.”  The updated guidance sought to strike the proper balance between military readiness and religious freedom for service members.   But it fell short in not providing a sufficient accommodation for some fundamental aspects of minority religious practice.  120407-M-KX613-023.jpg

For example, the guidance lays out a formal process so that Jewish and Sikh soldiers may request an accommodation for their required head coverings (a kippah or a turban) and incorporates grooming standards that provide a path for approval for beards.   However, each soldier must still request an individual, case-by-case accommodation under the guidance – a daunting and stressful prospect for some, with an uncertain outcome.   In the name of “…maintaining uniform military grooming and appearance standards,” the effect is to exclude some individuals who would otherwise welcome the opportunity to serve their country in the military.  

In January, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel held hearings on religious accommodations in the military. ADL, the Sikh Coalition, and the ACLU, (among others) raised this issue in their statements.  And Holly Hollman, General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, articulately described  the delicate balancing act facing the military in addressing religious liberty concerns. 

Importantly, more than 100 Members of Congress have weighed in on religious accommodation in the military in a letter to the Pentagon, coordinated by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY).   

And this week ADL, the Sikh Coalition, and the ACLU coordinated a letter to the Pentagon from an unusually broad coalition of twenty-one national groups with real religious liberty credentials and subject matter expertise.  The interfaith coalition letter stated that the current guidance “needlessly infringe on the rights of these religiously observant service members and prospective service members” and urged the Pentagon to fine-tune the Instruction to better accommodate religious practices. 

The same command structure that provides unique pressure to conform within the military – and potential for inappropriate proselytizing and religious coercion – also makes the direct involvement of the Pentagon’s leadership in promoting effective, uniform guidance and solutions to this problem critically important. 

The signatories to the coalition letter are: 

American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish Committee (AJC). Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Anti-Defamation League, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Christian Legal Society, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Episcopal Church, Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Interfaith Alliance, Muslim Advocates, National Council of Jewish Women, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), Sikh Coalition, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Union for Reform Judaism

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May 2, 2013

Qaradawi On Doha Interfaith Conference: Keep Jews Out!

Radical Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi derided the 10th annual Doha interfaith conference held in Qatar last week for including Jews.qaradawi-doha

During his April 26 Friday sermon at the Omar Bin al-Khattab Mosque in Doha, Qaradawi said he decided to boycott the conference because he cannot dialogue with Jews. “…I cannot be with [sic] a conference that includes the oppressor Jews,” Qaradawi said.

“No way I will put my hand in their hands,” Qaradawi added. “Their hands are soiled with blood. Their hands are the hands of killing, the hands of tyranny and the hands of injustice. I cannot contaminate my hands by putting it in their hands.”

Qaradawi initially announced his intention to boycott the conference in an interview with the Qatari daily newspaper Al-Arab on April 22. “I decided to not participate, so that I would not sit with the Jews on one platform… the Jews are usurping Palestine and al-Aqsa Mosque and destroying the houses of God…” Qaradawi told Al-Arab reporter.

In the same interview, Qaradawi criticized all efforts to have a dialogue with other religious groups, claiming they are useless.

Qaradawi previously declined to participate in the 8th annual Doha conference in 2011. In a statement released by Qaradawi’s office at that time, he reportedly said, “How can we conduct a dialogue in a time when they seize lands, shed blood, burn farms, and demolish houses? Palestine’s conundrum has to be resolved first before we sit together at the same table.”

Qaradawi, who heads The International Union of Muslim Scholars, has garnered worldwide appeal through a wide network of associations and by making use of various media outlets. Through his speeches and writings, Qaradawi has demonstrated consistent support of terrorist groups that seek to undermine a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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