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September 22, 2015 Off

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 Off

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 2

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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