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5/2/2009 3:39 AM
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I came across this just now while trolling around for items on the Papal trip to the Holy Land - and I was just as excited at the interview itself as by the tiny photo it came with, showing Rabbi Neusner with the Pope in Washington, DC last year.

The photo is not captioned on the blog, but it has been the only meeting so far bettween the Pope and the rabbi whose book he cited a lot in JESUS OF NAZARETH. And I had been looking for any photo of that meeting for a year now!*

Rabbi Neusner comments on
the Pope's coming trip to Israel

April 28, 2009

In an interview for a major European periodical that will appear next week, Professor Jacob Neusner comments on the Pope's trip to Israel. Here is a preview of his views with our thanks to Professor Neusner for sharing this perceptive interview with us.

Why is the Pope's trip to Holy Land important from your perspective? What are the stakes?
The Pope is a moral authority for the Catholic faithful and for humanity at large. The long-standing conflict between the state of Israel and the Arab neighbors represents an opportunity to exercise the moral authority that the world imputes to the Pope.

How could you describe the political context of the trip after the Gaza crisis last January?
It is a difficult mission, because Hamas refuses to negotiate peace with the state of Israel. The two-state solution is endangered by Hamas intransigence, and no other resolution of the conflict presents itself.

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.

How could you describe the symbolic context of this trip after the Williamson polemic or the Pio XII beatification polemic? What is your main expectation relating to latent anti-Semitism?
The Pope has repudiated the Holocaust denial of Williamson and his sect. He acknowledged the error of his original action. [Oops! Not his action - revoking the xcommunication - but that it was not properly prepared for , incluidng prior knowledge of Williamson's record.]

As to Pius XII, until the archives have been studied by all interested parties no determination on the facts of the matter can be reached. The Catholic Church has a long record of anti-Semitism, as shown by Jules Isaac The Teaching of Contemmpt, but from Pope John XXIII onward a record of respect for Judaism and friendship for the Jewish People has taken shape.

That does not mean that old habits of thought have been everywhere abandoned, only that there are now competing views. Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly shown himself part of the tradition begun by John XXIII and John Paul II. He wants to be - and to be known as - a friend of the Jewish people.

Does the fact that this Pope is German change anything or give more importance to the trip?
The Pope has taken pride in his German heritage and, given the record of Germany since 1945 in repudiating its shameful past and its policy of reparation and conciliation with the Jewish People and its consistent support for the state of Israel, there is much in which to take pride. He has shown sensitivity toward Jewish concerns and has corrected and acknowledged errors when they were made.

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.

Could this trip be a new step in Jewish-Christian reconciliation or will there always be tensions?
This is not a new step, John Paul II took the new step, but in that tradition this is a step forward, beyond tensions.

Do you think that this Pope, as a theologian, has a special responsibility in this matter?
Pope Benedict XVI represents the tradition embodied by John Paul II and has taken it as his special responsibility to nurture that new tradition of friendship with the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

How do you assess the importance of his theological work on Catholic-Jewish relationships?
The ideas that Benedict XVI put forth in his writings mark him as an important figure in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, he is a great scholar and philosopher and theologian - and the power of his ideas and critical thought will shape the mind of generations to come. Ideas matter and he is a man of great ideas.

In his book 'Jesus' the Pope refers to your book and research about Jesus. Was that a surprise to you? Did you continue am intellectual dialogue with him?
I am always happily surprised to find appreciation for my writing. Over the past decades Cardinal Ratzinger sent me articles he published aas well as his books, and I reciprocated. But JESUS OF NAZARETH stands by itself.

Who is Benedict XVI as you see him?
Before President Bush met with the Pope two years ago I was asked to the White House to offer advice to the President on the man he was about to meet. I told him that I did not know Pope Benedict XVI personally, only through letters, but I had formed the impression of a man who embodied the European tradition of culture and intellect, that he is not only very astute but also civilized, a model of a religious intellectual. His papacy concerns itself with all corners of the world but it embodies the Catholic message to Western civilization.

*I had a rather vivid account of that meeting between the Pope and the Rabbi from a New York rabbi who had witnessed the meeting and recounted what Rabbi Neusner told him about it. Also a red-letter day in my own life as I saw Benedict XVI for the first time, from fairly close, on two separate occasions that same afternoon.

BTW, I checked out some of the entries from the blog that yielded this preview, and found to my horror that the blogger is a stereotype Pope-hater - his topic list shows 81 entries so far for the Pope and the most recent two (not including this, which he ran because he happens to be an ardent supporter of Rabbi Neusner - he seels his books on a related booksite) were horrendous! He reminds me of every Jewish intellectual snob - men and especially women - who seem to typify the garden variety that thrives in the Upper West Side of New York where I live

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/3/2009 11:08 PM]
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