Pope Benedict embraces President Peres in Jerusalem 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tributes to Pope Benedict’s attitude and approach to the Jewish people and
Israel during his tenure as the head of the Roman Catholic Church came quickly
following his decision to resign on Monday.
The pontiff is widely seen as
having helped promote relations between the Church and the Jewish people, and
was ardent in his denunciations of anti-Semitism throughout his time as pope,
condemning a resurgent form of anti-Semitism and deploring the phenomenon of
According to Shmuel Ben- Shmuel, head of the Foreign
Ministry’s Department for the Diaspora and Religions, Benedict continued along
the path of his predecessor John Paul in working toward the removal of
theologically antagonistic doctrines held by the Church toward Jews.
adopted a warm and friendly stance to the Jewish people and sought to overcome the history of the Church’s persecution of the
Jews,” Ben-Shmuel said.
Last month, significant progress was made in
relations between Israel and the Vatican, which are now on the verge of
formalizing diplomatic relations and were first opened in 1993.
agreement will be fully ratified once a new Israeli government is
Ben-Shmuel also noted that Benedict was the first pope to openly
criticize radical Islam, a move that sparked outrage and intense criticism from
the Muslim world.
In 2009, Benedict visited Israel on a historic
three-day trip in which he emphasized the importance of strengthening
Catholic-Jewish relations, and visited Yad Vashem, where he described the
Holocaust as “an atrocity” that should never be allowed “to disgrace mankind
However, the pope was criticized in some quarters for not
directly referencing the Nazis in his speech. Former chief rabbi Yisrael Lau
criticized the pope at the time for saying that “millions” were killed instead
of six million and using the word “killed” instead of
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said that Benedict should be
particularly remembered for saying that God never abandoned his covenant with
the Jewish people, and that Jews were Christians’ “older brothers” and
“ancestors.” Amar also praised his strong stance and battle against all forms of
anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Rabbi David Rosen, the honorary
adviser to the Chief Rabbinate on interfaith matters, described Benedict as a
friend to the Jewish people who had worked toward improving relations, with a
stance the pope had publicly emphasized in his visit to Israel and on other
Rosen, a former Irish chief rabbi and also the director of
interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, noted that “our
concern now is that he might not have a successor who has the same commitment
that he had to Jewish-Catholic relations.”
While Benedict, who was a
member of the Hitler Youth in Germany as a child, came into the papacy under a
cloud of suspicion, Rosen told The Jerusalem Post that “contrary to public
perception, he actually has been excellent for the Jews.”
confronted his birth country’s past when he visited the Nazi death camp at
Auschwitz. Calling himself “a son of Germany,” he prayed and asked why God was
silent when 1.5 million victims, most of them Jews, died there during World War
Jewish communal organizations and rabbinic leaders around the world
were quick to react to the pope’s statement with praise for his continuation of
John Paul’s efforts to strengthen Jewish-Catholic relations.
of Benedict elevated Catholic-Jewish relations to an unprecedented level,” said
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder on Monday. Not only did Benedict
maintain John Paul’s achievements, he gave the relationship between the two
faith communities a “solid theological underpinning,” Lauder added.
also noted that no pope before Benedict visited as many synagogues as he did and
that he “met with local Jewish community representatives whenever he visited
foreign nations. No pope before him made more strides to improve the
relationship with the Jews – on so many levels.”
The pope was also
praised for his strong stand against Holocaust denial by church
Jewish leaders, Lauder included, expressed their hope that
Benedict’s successor will choose to contribute to interfaith
Rosen noted that as the first pope in centuries who will be
alive following the end of his pontificate, Benedict will have at least a “moral
and psychological influence” over the election of his successor.
continued, may be the reason for his abdication: to ensure that the Church
continues in a traditional direction.
“He sees himself as the defender of
the true faith against the inroads of secularism, and therefore being able to
ensure that his legacy continues is probably a factor in his decision to
resign,” Rosen said.
Despite not having the same “emotional commitment”
to dialogue as John Paul, European Jewish Congress president Dr.
Kantor noted that “his intellectual commitment as expressed in his firm stance
against the collective and individual guilt of Jews in the killing of Jesus is
one that must appreciated by Jewish communities.”
Reiterating the hopes
voiced by other Jewish communities around the world that are worried about the
upcoming papal transition, Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of
Deputies of British Jews, told Sky News that “we have been gratified by the
efforts of the papacy to engage in interfaith [dialogue], particularly with the
Jewish community. We hope and expect this to continue when Pope Benedict’s
successor is appointed.”
Both British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan
Sacks and Chief Rabbi of Rome Riccardo di Segni also voiced their appreciation
Sacks called the pope “a man of gentleness,” noting that he
was a “compassionate individual who carried with him an aura of grace and
Di Segni told the Post that despite disagreements, which were
“inevitable given the essential differences between the two worlds,” the Jewish
community of Rome always appreciated the pope’s “will to underline the Jewish
roots of Christianity as a presupposition to a respectful and productive