Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rabbi Jacob Neusner weighs on on Pope Benedict's upcoming pilgrimage to Israel

In an interview for a major European periodical next week, Rabbi Jacob Neusner commented on Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Israel -- Tzvee's Talmudic Blog has the complete details. Here's just a snippet:
What is your main expectation?

Pope Benedict XVI has shown the capacity to speak bluntly to the world at large, as his address at Regensburg last year showed. He does not dissimulate or mince words. I expect that he will speak truth to all parties and preserve a balanced and just position for all concerned. That is his record, At the same time the Roman Catholic Church has its interests in the Middle East, which will be on the Pope's mind. The Moslem countries do not accord to Christianity the rights of free expression that they demand and get from the Christian countries. The Pope is likely to pursue that matter too.

In what sense would this trip be a failure?

If one party claims to have been vindicated and the other party claims to have been dismissed unfairly, the imbalance would mark a disaster, because that moral authority that is the Pope's strength will have been wasted,

In what sense would this trip be a success?

If both parties are helped to find steps toward the path to peace in response to the Pope's presence, that will mark success.

* * *

Above all this trip is a pilgrimage. How do you see it, as rabbi and Jewish intellectual?

When a century ago Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism, turned to the Pope for support for a Jewish state, he was told that until the Jewish people converted to Christianity, the Church would do nothing to establish a Jewish state. Papal visits to the state of Israel - this is not the first and will not be the last - repudiate that original decision and affirm the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish state. It is always important to recognize the implicit statement represented by the Pope's pilgrimage.

What is the main stake from an inter-religious perspective?

The relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the aftermath of Vatican II has defined the task of reconciliation and this visit represents a step toward the realization of amity between the two religions.

Click here to read the rest of Rabbi Neusner's interview on the papal pilgrimage.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Rabbi Neusner's biblical commentary featured prominently in Pope Benedict's bestselling Jesus of Nazareth (2007).

Also, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he heralded Neusner's book A Rabbi Talks With Jesus (1994) as "by far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade" -- probably one of the few Jewish books that could boast a blurb by Fr. Andrew Greeley AND the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on its cover! (Jesus of Nazareth, in fact, could be read in part as a response to the arguments made by Professor Neusner in his own book).

More recently, in contrast to a largely negative outcry from Jewish critics, Rabbi Neusner distinguished himself by defending the Pope's editorial revisions to the Good Friday "Prayer for the Jews" in 2008.

More about Rabbi Jacob Neusner