In a little more than a year as Pope, Francis has developed a reputation for humility, care for the poor, and a penchant for dialogue with people from differing backgrounds. Yet his visit is causing great concern amongst the Jews of Israel. The reason is not personal; it is due to a number of long-standing grievances that the Nation of Israel holds concerning the Catholic Church and its practices over the centuries. Now is the time to state the major ones clearly, for all to see.
Grievance 1: The Temple Vessels
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman army under the command of Titus waged war on Jerusalem and Israel, eventually destroying the city and the Great Temple, the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem. The Romans captured huge amounts of gold, and displayed the sacred treasures of the Temple in a victory parade in Rome. Three hundred years later, the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official faith of the Roman Empire. In one fell swoop, the power, authority and possessions of the Roman Empire were given over to the Church of Rome, later known as the Catholic Church.
Over the years, there have been persistent rumors that some of the original Temple treasures, including the great golden menorah portrayed in detail on Titus’s victory arch in Rome, are located deep in the recesses of the Vatican’s cellars. Jews would like to know if these rumors are true, and if so, expect the Vatican to return the Temple Vessels to Israel, where they belong.
Grievance 2: Catholicism’s Traditional Attitude Towards the Jewish Faith
In his 1965 book “The Anguish of the Jews”, Fr. Edward H. Flannery, a Roman Catholic Priest, conservatively estimated that since its inception 2,000 years ago, Christianity had been responsible for the death of twenty million Jews worldwide. For centuries, the Catholic Church unleashed pogroms, auto-da-fes, public burnings, forced conversions, and the extermination of whole communities of Jews. Many of Israel’s people are waiting for an admission of guilt and a full apology from the Catholic Church for the crimes it committed towards the Jewish Nation in the pursuit of its faith.
Grievance 3: The Church’s Friendliness Towards Israel’s Enemies
Israelis find the Catholic Church’s cozy relationship with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority disturbing. Mr. Abbas, who will officially meet Pope Francis on Sunday, presides over an educational and media system that directs large sums of money at glorifying terrorists and teaching pre-school children that they can obtain a one-way ticket to heaven by hunting down and killing Jews. The Catholic Church’s willingness to engage in dialogue with these people are for many Israeli Jews proof that they have not yet changed their traditional animosity to the People of Israel.
Grievance 4: The Question of Idolatry
This may be the thorniest issue of all. It is critical to note that many Jews all over the centuries resisted the Catholic Church’s attempts to convert them because for the Jewish faith, the belief in the divinity of anything or anyone outside the God of Israel Himself is idolatry, pure and simple. For Jews, it is shocking enough that a world faith tells us that a man who lived in Israel 2,000 years ago was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish nation. But that is not all. For vast numbers of the billions of faithful Christians, that man is nothing less that God Himself, HaShem Yishmor v’Yatzil
(My God protect and save from such thoughts.) In the eyes of Jews, this is a supreme transgression of everything that the Torah of our ancestors stands for and what God Himself wants for us to believe. It is something that we have been willing throughout the ages to give up our lives for rather than even pretend that such beliefs are true.
So: Jews have a number of open issues for the pope. And that is why his visit to our Holy Jerusalem stirs up controversy. It remains to be seen how much effort Pope Francis is willing to make to plumb the depths of these schisms, and how far he is willing to go to deal with them.
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