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Monday, March 03, 2008

Re: Followup: Jewish, Zionist War Against Salvation

Dear Professor Neusner,
I admire your scholarship, and my religion library has many books that you have written or edited.
Your response to the Tridentine liturgy hysteria (Followup: Jewish, Zionist War Against Salvation, Catholics Have a Right To Pray for Us) shows integrity because you tell Jews that they must grant to Roman Catholics the same right that Jews grant themselves.
In contrast, Jonathan Tobin, who is editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, argues on the basis of expedience in Other People's Prayers (see below)  that "this is not the time to pick fights over other people's prayers" because Catholics and Jews need to "continue the work of bringing the two faiths closer together in defense of Western freedoms" against "forces within Islam."
While the Jewish attack against the new Roman Catholic liturgy was probably unplanned and reflexive as Tobin implies, the ongoing demonization of Islamic religious law in order to marginalize American Islam and American Muslims is part of a concerted extremely illegal conspiracy of mostly Jewish Israel advocates against the rights (18 USC 241) of American Muslims in order to diminish the impact of voices critical of the State of Israel.
In your Forward op-ed, you wrote:

Israel prays for gentiles, so the other monotheists, the Catholic Church included, have the right to do the same — and no one should feel offended, as many have by Pope Benedict XVI's recent revision of the Tridentine Mass.

Any other policy toward gentiles would deny their access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah. And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship.

A similar piece could make possible a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslim if it were to argue something like the following.

Just as the Congregation of Israel obeys its religious law (Halakhah), American Muslims have the right to follow Islamic religious law or Sharia, which differs in no important way from Halakhah. Just as Muslims do not demonize Halakhah, Jews and Israel advocates should not demonize Sharia.

Any other policy toward Muslims represents an attempt to normalize Islamophobia by denying that Muslims achieve the same sort of connection with the divine via Sharia as the Congregation of Israel obtains through voluntary observance of Halakhah. 

If civil dialogue becomes impossible as Daniel Pipes (Resisting Islamic Law) and his ilk appear to desire, only uncivil dialogue remains.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, a well-intentioned German Judge decided a divorce case on the basis of Halakhah. The anti-Semites of that time period tried to incite all sort of fears of creeping Judaization. We know where that argument led.
How should we view Jews that try to incite hatred of Islam today on the model of the anti-Semitism of the first half of the twentieth century? (See Updating "The AJC attacks", The Boston Globe's Problem with Muslims.)
Sincerely yours,
Joachim Martillo
BTW, I made a similar request of Brandeis Professor Jonathan Sarna during the Roxbury Mosque controversy, which was just one project in the ongoing conspiracy against the rights of Muslims Americans (18 USC 241). Sarna disappointed me immensely.

Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2008 / 12 Adar I 5768

Other People's Prayers

By Jonathan Tobin

Interfaith dialogue must be based on the principle that respect is a two-way street | In 1263, the great Spanish scholar Rabbi Moshe ben-Nachman, better known as Nachmanides, was summoned to Barcelona by King James I of Aragon to engage in a rather stressful form of interfaith dialogue with representatives of the Dominican and Franciscan religious orders.

Their debate is known to history as the Disputation of Barcelona. The purpose of those who initiated the event (principally, an apostate Jew) was to compel the conversion of Spanish Jewry to Christianity. Guaranteed freedom of speech, Nachmanides, the sole Jewish representative in the proceedings, gave as good as he got in a free-wheeling medieval rhetorical brawl, in which both sides made it clear how little they thought of their opponents' faith.

Though given a reward by the king for his performance, Nahmanides was eventually forced to flee the country because of the church's anger. In particular, Pope Clement IV sought to punish the rabbi for his courageous defense of Judaism.

Flash forward 745 years and the lessons of the Disputation still stand. Public arguments about matters of faith can be a dangerous game whose outcome often serves the purposes of those who wish to spread intolerance rather than knowledge.

Though the context of the present day couldn't be any more different than the circumstances of 1263 Barcelona, many Jews appear to be thinking about interfaith relations with this piece of sad history still in mind.

The latest irritant in Catholic-Jewish relations is the result of the church's revival of an Easter Week devotion in which believers asked to pray for the conversion of the Jews.

As part of an effort to break down divisions within Catholicism that had grown up around the abandonment of the Latin Mass, last year Pope Benedict XVI allowed the saying of the Tridentine rite. The prayer, which was dropped by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, spoke of Jewish "blindness" and asked the Almighty to "remove the veil from their hearts."

Shocked by this reversion to language that was part of a long history of the teaching of contempt for Judaism, Jewish leaders asked the Vatican to reconsider the move. Last week, the Vatican responded by issuing a new version of the prayer which eliminated the lines about blindness" and the "veil" over Jewish hearts, but did not omit the call for conversion.

The Jewish reaction to this move was anguished. The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to the pope asking that he further amend the prayer. The Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbinical movements are all expected to add their pleas soon.

In response, Cardinal Walter Kasper seemed to express bewilderment at the sensitivity of the Jews. He told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, "I don't understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our papers." His point was that the prayer "reflects the faith of the church, and furthermore Jews have prayers in their liturgical texts that we Catholics don't like … one must respect differences." While the cardinal's statement illustrates the slippery slope down which this sort of dispute can soon lead to hurt feelings on all sides, he is, of course, right. Catholics are free to believe whatever they want about the universal truth of the doctrines of their faith. The same right must also apply to everyone else when it comes to their opinions about their own religions and everyone else's. Problems arise not from believing these different things, but how we act on those differences.

On that score, it is important for Jews to understand that the Catholic Church has, in recent generations, moved light years away from the spirit of the Disputation of Barcelona. Under the inspired leadership of Pope John XXIII and later Pope John Paul II, the Vatican discarded the teaching of contempt for Judaism, and introduced new curricula in their schools and churches based on respect for Judaism and recognition of past persecutions.

As for proselytizing, unlike many Protestant denominations, the church has dropped campaigns to specifically target Jews for conversion.

Yet Jewish groups still fear that if the Vatican, in seeking to mollify its own liturgical conservative wing, moves away from the spirit of Vatican II, it will mean that Catholics no longer embrace John Paul II's beliefs that taught Catholics to think of Jews as their theological older brothers whose legitimacy should not be questioned.

That fear is genuine and it is based, in no small part, on the legacy of church-based missionizing that was rooted in compulsion and oppression of Jews.

But as Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio in another interview, the revised prayer "does not mean we are embarking on a mission" to convert Jews. Rather, they are just expressing their faith.

Jews and Catholics may have many things in common, but they do not accept the fundamentals of each other's religions. No less than in 1263, Christians believe theirs is the true path to salvation. Jews still disagree. In societies where religion rules all, such as most of the Islamic world, such theological differences are just as much a matter of life and death as they were in Barcelona during the Disputation.

But in free societies such as our own, we can merely say, "vive la difference" and leave it at that, knowing none of us will be the worse for wear as a result of our contrasting views about the nature of eternity or divinity.

Genuine interfaith dialogue is not rooted in agreement, but rather, on agreement to disagree. The trick is to do so in a civil manner, and to avoid public attacks on each others faiths that can only lead to discord and prejudice.

So while it is all well and good for Jews to hope that the Catholic Church never chooses to deviate from the path of John Paul II, it is not for Jews to tell Catholics what to say in their prayers, any more than it is legitimate for them to go back to trying to censor the Jewish liturgy as they once did. Respect is a two-way street.

Rather than seek to turn Benedict's revival of the Tridentine mass into a major issue, what we need to do is to stop worrying about Catholic prayers, and instead continue the work of bringing the two faiths closer together in defense of Western freedoms.

This a moment in history when the greatest challenge to religious freedom is not coming from the traditional sources of reaction within Christianity, such as those that sought to punish Nachmanides for defending Judaism at Barcelona. Instead, our challenge comes from forces within Islam that have already sought to censor the beliefs of Pope Benedict for defending the West. Their goal is to dismantle the entire edifice of tolerance that Jews and Christians have worked so hard to create.

Given that reality, this is not the time to pick fights over other people's prayers.

In a message dated 03/02/08 11:36:06 Eastern Standard Time, writes:
On Sharia law compared with the halakhah I edited several books of comparative law and theology.  The Islam chapters were written by highly qualified scholars and treated Islam with utmost respect.

Three Faiths, One God. The Formative Faith and Practice of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam [With Bruce D. Chilton & William A. Graham.] Leiden and Boston, 2002: E. J. Brill.

Comparing Religions Through Law: Judaism and Islam.
[With Tamara Sonn] London, 1999: Routledge. E-book edition, London, 2001: Taylor and Francis.
Judaism and Islam in Practice. A Source Book of the Classical Age. [With Tamara Sonn & Jonathan Brockopp] London, 2000: Routledge. E-book edition, London, 2001: Taylor and Francis.

William Graham did the Islam sections  of THREE FAITHS  and Tamara Sonn and Jonathan Brockopp did the Islam half of the other two titles.

Also I edited a number of books comparing Judaism Christianity Islam Buddhism and Hinduism on  various shared topics of morality andd the social order and the Islam chapters were set forth with learning and respect.

Jacob Neusner

Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism
Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 12504

Office Telephone: 845 758 7389

39 Kalina Drive
Rhinebeck, New York 12572

Home Telephone: 845 876 7320
Fax: 845 876 7320

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Anonymous said...

This is excellent commentary. I would have only added that the Jews lost their Book many years ago, and what they follow as Jewish law today is Talmud, which was not divine revealed.We treat their paryers as those that were based upon divine guidance and emulation of prophets, when in all actuality they are not unless they are from the Psalms. Since they were oral, many Jews may have memorized them, and so their scribes may have come very close to their original content, but the Torah itself was lost long before the Jewish captivity.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Martillo,

In COMPARING RELIGIONS THROUGH LAW we found legal categories of Halakhah and Sharia that correspond precisely, categories that are unique to one or another of the religions, and categories that are partially alike and partially different — a matter of proportionj. On the theological side there are many points in common as well.

It is easy to take something out of context. But the system is the key. I have tried to identify the theological context of the Halakhah and to relate halakhic details to an encompassing Halakhic and Aggadic-theologival system. That work doesn’t seem to have been done for Islamic law, showing how details hold together and how the Sharia law embodies theology in action. But in my superficial exposure to Islamic law I saw a lot that can be analyzed within an encompassing system.

Muslim students have always enriched my class room with perspective and knowledge.

Jacob Neusner

Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism
Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology
Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 12504

Office Telephone: 845 758 7389

39 Kalina Drive
Rhinebeck, New York 12572

Home Telephone: 845 876 7320
Fax: 845 876 7320

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