Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pope Benedict's Generosity Is Underwhelming (Updated)

Among Pope Benedict's many photo ops:
The Pope also made a historic visit to the Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side, telling the delegation, "I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood."

He also said, "It is with joy that I come here just a few hours before the celebration of your Pesach [Passover] to express my respects in a scene for the Jewish community in New York City." The Pope was given a seder plate, a Haggadah, and some matzoh, which the Holy Father said he'd eat tonight. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who received a 15th century Hebrew manuscript from the Vatican, told him, "In the last 45 years much progress has been made. Your presence here gives us hope and courage for the road we still have to travel together."

No, actually, Rabbi Schneier did not receive a Hebrew manuscript. In reality:

The pope presented Schneier and his congregation with a replica of a 15th Century Hebrew parchment manuscript, the original of which is in the Vatican archives. [emphasis added]
Why is that--Why couldn't the Pope make a real gesture by returning a Jewish manuscript back to the Jews? Instead, we either get copies or are loaned the originals--and are supposed to be thankful.

In January 2005 it was reported:
The Vatican will loan the work of Moses Maimonides, one of Judaism's most celebrated rabbis and sages, to Israel this year in a gesture meant to improve relations between Catholics and Jews.

Jewish community leaders said they are ecstatic to have the opportunity to study the Maimonides document, and at least three other medieval manuscripts.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a professor at Yeshiva University in New York, said the gesture by the Vatican "strengthens the bonds between Jews and Christians."

"We are asking a favor, they are showing us a kindness, to borrow these items," he said.
In this particular case, there are some underlying politics--
The loaning of the manuscripts is also viewed as an offering to resolve other political and social disagreements in Israel, including Hebrew University's partial use of a convent since 1948 that the Vatican wants back, and property tax exemptions for religious institutions.

If the university accedes to the Vatican's wishes and leaves, it could open the door to more treasures being released, Krupp said.
Gary Krupp is one of 3 Jews living today who has been knighted by a Pope, and differs on who is the rightful owner of the manuscripts the Vatican continues to hold on to:
Some members of the delegation say the items belong to the Jewish people and are hoping Israel obtains other Judaic treasures hidden in the Vatican.

Krupp observed, however, that the writings are the basis of both Judaism and Catholicism.

"It's just as much a part of their religion as it is of ours."
Since when has Maimonides been adopted as one of the Church Fathers? No wonder they are holding onto this manuscript, along with possibly hundreds of others.

The Jewish Press had an editorial last year on the topic:
we would respectfully suggest that current headlines point to readily available concrete gestures that might ameliorate some of the historical injustices inflicted on the Jewish people by the Church.

We refer to the unconscionable refusal by the Vatican to return ancient Jewish artifacts, including those from the Temple periods, and invaluable Talmudic manuscripts secreted in Vatican catacombs.

The late scholar Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann, who largely devoted his later years to this issue, wrote:
In an effort to eradicate Judaism – that stubborn religion which sees no basis for believing in Jesus – the church has used many murderous means. The burnings of Jews in many countries has been only one avenue. A spiritual genocide was also attempted over several centuries by confiscating and burning our precious holy books. After thus destroying hundreds of thousands of sacred Jewish books, there is still a residue of some 800 Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican. For ten years I have led a campaign to recover at least these survivors of spiritual genocide and have campaigned for their return to their legitimate owners, the Jewish people. [emphasis added]
According to Dr. Lehmann, the Vatican rebuffed his efforts and those of various related committees he formed. He wrote that the Vatican claimed the Hebrew works were obtained “not by seizing them from Jews, but as gifts from Italian noblemen and that the ‘Renaissance’ Popes of the 16th century were lovers of Hebrew books.”

In painstakingly detail, however, Dr. Lehmann demonstrated what most everyone instinctively knew – that the manuscripts were stolen from Jewish communities during the worst period of pogroms and Church-sanctioned attacks against Jews.
For its part, the Vatican has continued to be secretive--failing in 2003 to a request by Israeli President Moshe Katzav to provide a list of what Jewish manuscripts it possesses.

For the Pope to give a facsimile of one of many Jewish manuscripts and artifacts still being withheld by the Vatican is simply a slap in the face and shows the kind of insensitivity demonstrated by the revival by the Vatican last year of a prayer offensive to Jews.

UPDATE: Hagahot thinks he may know which manuscript the Pope gave a copy of--and points out the irony behind the choice.

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