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Things being as they are these days, any scrap of good news from Israel and the Middle East is hard to come by. So rare, in fact, that even if it is raised as a progressive possibility, it is seized upon as a token of hope for better things to come.
It happened with numerous reports that a swap was set to be announced when President Moshe Katsav meets with the pope. In the supposed deal Israel would cede to the Vatican the Upper Room above the traditional site of King David's tomb. In return, the Vatican would relinquish to the Jewish people the famous synagogue in Toledo, Spain.
The conservative Rome daily Il Messaggero reported in October that the signing of the agreement could take place when Israel's president and Pope Benedict XVI meet at the Vatican on November 17. But the report has been denied at Beit Hanassi and the Vatican has not commented on the story.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials dismissed the possible exchange as "nonsense" in response to a storm of protests emanating from religious factions.
Jerusalem City Councilwoman Mina Fenton commented: "We remained vigilant and held a small demonstration outside of the president's residence on Friday." She felt, as did many others, that the displays of displeasure over the possibility of the swap caused the president to change course.
BUT IS the controversy just one more bit of sound and fury, or are there substantive issues here, some of which are positive? Granted, Israelis have had their fill of giving up land and national treasures without receiving anything in return but paper promises and trampled agreements. This time, however, there is a difference. Israel will give, and the Vatican will give in return. That's what's new about this issue.
The Gothic-arched Upper Room is the traditional site of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. It is also reputed to be the place where the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. The present room was built by the Crusaders in the 14th century. It was taken over in 1342 by the Franciscans. It fell to the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century and was converted into a mosque.
Since the founding of the modern State of Israel, yeshivot have been located there, and the site is believed to be situated over the traditional Tomb of King David.
Since the Upper Room came under the control of Israelis, it has been a freely accessed center for visits and worship by Christian pilgrims - one of the most revered sanctuaries in the city of Jerusalem.
THE SYNAGOGUE now known as the Synagogue of St. Mary the White in Toledo bears an illustrious history. It was built in the 12th century when Toledo was a great city filled with Jewish families. It was also a center for Jewish intellectualism. However, with the onslaught of the Inquisition, Jews in Toledo and throughout Spain were subjected to a reign of terror during which dozens of synagogues were abandoned or destroyed, and Jews driven from the country. The fabulous synagogue of Toledo was converted into a Catholic church.
That was then, and this is now.
ON OCTOBER 28, 1965, pope Paul VI announced "Nostra Aetate" - a declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions. Finally, and far too late, the Vatican abandoned the dictum of the Jewish people being guilty of the crucifixion, and thus branded as "Christ killers."
"True," Nostra Aetate states, "the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today... the Jews should not be rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures."
Thus a new era of relations between the Vatican and Israel began. Now, after all of the centuries, there may just be a visible token of the sincerity of the union. A flexing, if you will, of the formerly inflexible attitude of Rome toward the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
The good faith exchange, if it occurs, may only be one small step, but it could be a beginning. And not a bad one at that.
The writer, a pastor, is a leader in the Christian Zionist movement.
Send us your comments >>
Bruce Erwin, Oneonta, NY, USA: Dr. McQuaid has certainly missed it on this one - as other readers have pointed out. Not one inch of Jerusalem should be surrendered (or of Israel generally). The site in question, if tradition is accurate, and it may not be, is significant as a place where our Jewish Messiah and Jewish disciples met.
I am a Gentile conservative Christian.
The Roman church is not the depository of the Faith. Let them keep their trinkets, but let Israel keep their Jewish land and possessions. The Jewish authorities have no business giving Jewish land to them.
As for the synagogue, they owe that to you outright without a trade!
David Weingarden, Detroit, USA: In theory, a trade always sounds like a friendly thing to do. Superficially, Mr. McQuaid's comments seem to make sense. But after stepping back and thinking for a moment, the whole suggestion is quite noxious.
The church has admitted to having performed nearly 2,000 years of atrocities, mass murder, mass theft, and mass expulsions of Jews all over the world. They tortured Jews by the thousands, slaughtered entire communities by the tens of thousands, and expelled the Jewish populations of entire countries, leaving the victims with no one to protect them from bandits, pirates, or even simple thugs. In each of these instances, they then stole all of these poor Jews' homes, places of worship, businesses, money, religious objects, possessions, and savings. After nearly 2,000 years, the church thankfully admits that they were wrong, that they have sinned against the Jews, and the pope actually said, "Sorry".
Where I come from, and in most religions, and the laws of almost all lands, when you wrong someone, you are required to make amends. The Vatican? Well apparently, that's a different story. So here's the McQuaid suggested consideration. The Vatican returns a magnificent house of worship in Toledo, Spain; one whose population they had massacred or expelled and they stole and kept until today; in exchange for a room that was owned by Jews when Jesus was reported to have used it, was later stolen by the Vatican and then the Moslems, and then somehow ended up back in Jewish hands. So, in summary, the church would be saying," We will trade you a piece of property that we stole from you a long time ago, for a piece of property that we had previously stolen from you! Now be a good neighbor and reward me for admitting that I stole all this stuff from you in the first place."
Shame on you, Mr. McQuaid.
David Teich, Petach Tikva, Israel: The Church stole the synagogue from Jews, why should we pay them ransom? If the current Pope wishes to show he actually believes in Vatican II, he should apologize to Jews and just hand us back the synagogue.
When the Greek Orthodox Church is replacing a leader for having the temerity to lease land in Israel to Jews, the idea of giving the Roman Orthodox Church land is ludicrous.
Dr. Thomas Hudson, Spokane, Washington, USA: Let me see... It was the Vatican I believe, that not only supported Adolph Hitler, but assisted in the underground smuggling of nazis out of Germany after the fall of the Third Reich. After centuries of persecution of not only Jews, but Christians as well, why should anyone do business with the Catholic Government? After all, this valuable site of both Jewish and Christian history belongs to the world, not the Vatican Government, and the Jewish government is doing a great job of allowing everyone access this site. Why change things?
Richard, Atlanta, GA, USA: The "Last Supper" being a seder and Jesus being a famous Jew himself, why does the catholic Church need this Jewish historic site?
I would think that a special relationship with the Catholic Church would be enough to give their worshippers access to this site, which I think they have?
If I were G-d himself, I would ask what has the Catholic Church done for the Jews? The Pope ignored the Holocaust, The Inquisitions, the 2000 years of an Easter message that blamed the Jews for Christ's death?
I love my Christian friends and I understand the importance of the "Last Supper," but why ownership of the Tomb Of David?
What next, the Western Wall?
Linda Rivera, USA: We are not told why the writer, described as a "leader in the Christian Zionist movement", is so eager to kiss up to the Vatican. Mr. McQaid makes a mockery of Christian Zionism. Blaspheming the Name of G-D, the hierarchy of the Church of Rome committed pogroms, crusades, blood libels and inquisitions against Jewish innocents. In the Name of G-D, they broke G-D's laws. They committed atrocities, and murdered in the Name of G-D. To give even one inch of Jewish Holy Land to the Vatican is to spit on the grave of every one of the Jewish victims. And it is a huge sin against G-D. In the Bible, G-D states repeatedly He has given Israel to the Jews as an eternal possession. No Jewish Holy Land can be given away.
John, Monsey, NY: What a crock. In addition to the obvious bad deal, the arrogance displayed by Mr. McQuaid is revolting. We should be grateful, it seems, that the Vatican declared the Jews not fully guilty - not innocent, mind you, just not fully guilty - and that since then they've wanted to have better relations. This, after centuries of persecution. Today, they are a fair-weather-friend, at best; in the past, they were guilty of murder. The pity is that Israel parleys with them at all.
Aviva, Jerusalem, Israel: The massacred Jews of Toledo were dreaming of Mount Zion and the Land of Israel. As their synagogue is being offered as part of this deal, for their memory alone, this deal should be dismissed. Currently, the site of David's Tomb is open free of charge to everyone regardless of their faith. Under the tolerant church, it will only be open to Jews for two hours a day and it will be made into a paying site. Furthermore, the original Holocaust museum is on Mount Zion. Under this proposal, it would be destroyed.
This proposed deal is ludicrous. The Jews do not owe anything to Christians. If Rome wants to have good relations with Israel it should return all stolen Jewish books and religious artifacts, as well as open its archives regarding the fate of Jewish children "saved" by the church for the purposes of converting them.
Ira Neiman, Lincolnwood, USA: Do I understand this correctly? The Vatican will agree to "return" a shul to the Jewish people - that it admits to stealing from them - only if we sign over "in exchange" a juicy slice of sovereign Israel? I think this warming relations thing may need a little more work...
Yerachmiel Roness, Jerusalem, Israel: I agree with the thrust of the op-ed piece, but I wouldn't be so quick in saying "let them keep every old shul and school in every decimated community." Restitution in one way, shape, or form, should be demanded.
Scott, Jerusalem, Israel: To give away a square inch of Israel for a square mile in Spain is insanity. Especially in the holy city of Jerusalem. Let the Church keep the shul they converted to a church, and we will keep open the old city to all faiths, but WE will keep it.