Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rabbi Gary Creditor: "The Pope and the Jews"

The Pope and the Jews: Was it good for the Jews? Was it good for the Church?
From the Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
In comparison to issues, local, national and global, facing the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and in comparison to issues facing the Catholic Church, it might seem trivial to ask if Pope Benedict XVI was "good for the Jews?" and if his relationship to us was good for the Church? I am not sure how to answer the latter, but the former is certainly clear.
First of all, why is this question so pressing? The answer is, it seems to me, that since the global issues confronting the Jewish people and the State of Israel will not go away until the Messiah comes, we need advocates to constantly raise their voices, use their influence on our behalf on the world's stage.
            Even if and when anti-Semitism decreases, it will never disappear and must be confronted, fought and defeated. Vigilance is a prerequisite for survival.
            No matter how many court battles are won against deniers of the Holocaust and malicious claims against us, they never disappear. It is a virus for which there is no immunization.
            In comparison to the nearly two millennia of Christian opposition to Judaism, it is barely fifty years since Vatican II began the change of its core theology about us. This can never be taken for granted. The relationship needs constant tending, deepening and widening.
            For us, we take for granted the right of the existence of the State of Israel. Not so the rest of the world. We need voices that are not our own, to articulate the historical justice and the political correctness to the existence of the State. We need these voices when the bombs fly and to make sure the nuclear one does not.
In all of these matters, Pope Benedict XVI has been a good and steady friend, a chaver, to the Jewish people and Medinat Israel. This change began with Pope John XXIII and then was furthered by Pope John Paul II. In these years Pope Benedict XVI continued and deepened the connection and support of the Vatican towards the Jewish people and Medinat Yisrael. Despite a few bumps in the road, this Pope has been a blessing to us.
It is difficult to know if this has been "good for the Church." They are beset by very serious issues that are not ours. They have a vast population that is not in Europe, were born after the Holocaust, hardly know Jews and Judaism, and that reside in areas that are at risk. The next Pope will face serious and severe challenges.

Yet the Pope and his immediate predecessors have created a historical vision about themselves and about us. They looked deeply inside themselves, their theology, and their holy texts and radically rewrote their "story." It is now critical that this direction be fortified, strengthened and maintained. I pray for Pope Benedict XVI, that without the burden of leading the Catholic Church, he will find peace and restoration of health. I pray that the new Pope will walk in his footsteps and be a chaver to us. As Pope John Paul called us their "elder brother," as family-in-faith, I pray for their choice to lead them to a successful and blessed future.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

On What is Our World Based?

On What is Our World Based?

February 9th, 2013

Rabbi Gary S. Creditor


If you were asked, "What are the three pillars upon which our world stands," what would you answer? I am not referring to any architectural structure. I am not referring to the three branches of government. In all earnestness and seriousness I am asking: What values undergird our society?


The Jewish answer is found in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:18. There, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, the spiritual leader of Palestinian Jewry in the decades after the Bar Kochaba rebellion (132-135 C.E.) is recorded as having said:


"The world rests on three things: with truth, justice, and peace, as it is written (Zechariah 8:16) 'With truth, justice and peace shall you judge in your gates."


I believe that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel chose Zechariah's words because it most succinctly captures the purpose of Torah, of the mitzvot, of the mission of the Jewish people, of the Messianic vision of Judaism which is to proclaim to the world:

            Everyone on earth:                    is a creature of God;

                                                            Embodies a spark of God;

                                                            is holy;

                                                            and, that holiness descends from heaven to earth as

                                                               we live the values of truth, justice and peace.


The question that we should be asking our children and grandchildren is not: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" or "How much money are you going to make?" The real question is: "What kind of person will you be when you grow up?" "What values are going to be the foundation for your life?" "How will you make this a better world?"


That question is not just for them. It is for us, too. For us we phrase the same question in the following way:

            What kind of culture do we wish to make in/of/for our country?

            What kind of world do we want to live in?

            How are we to feel when we look out of our windows walk down our streets,

                        shop in the malls, go to the parks?

            Are we to live with trembling because of fear of what is going to happen to us?

            Are we going to lock up our children from the moment we pick them up after

                        school until we drop them off the next day and then live with fear until

                        we get them home again?

If Rabban Gamliel would visit America today, travel from coast to coast, read the papers, observe Congress and our Legislature, and watch the media, what would he say are the three things upon which we rest? I think that he would say: "This world rests on violence, power and greed." It is one or the other or in any combination that drives us.


Especially since I attended the conference of an organization I had never heard of before, PICO National Network and their "Lifelines to Healing" campaign, whose slogan is "Unlocking the Power of People," an interfaith organization, these feelings and thoughts have been whirling around in my brain. The deliberations were more than just about gun violence, even as that was the main focus. The discussions really extended to the core issues of our society. In the brevity of the time we had, these were either just mentioned or inferred, but were definitely central. Violence and guns, poverty and prosperity, video/media/music/films and moral values, greed and ethics, racism/sexism and equality, power and powerlessness, respect/love and hatred are not separate subjects. In some mysterious formula they are all tied together. Unfortunately it wasn't the purpose of the conference to create a structure in which to assimilate these pieces and make sense of it all, but it was clear to me: We won't solve one without addressing all of them. That is the necessary agenda of America.


The question that lies before us at every level, governmental from Washington,. D.C. to Virginia to Richmond, society whether secular or religious, in groups or as individuals, is: "Is this the America that we want to live in?" To paraphrase Smokey the Bear's slogan: "Only you, only we can make the America we want."


The unique and singular understanding of Judaism comes from this Torah portion of Mishpatim. Law is necessary. There can be no justice without law. But law needs to be coupled with truth and peace: in the Rabbinic language, "tzedek u'mishpat"– "righteousness and law." This phrase echoes in the High Holy Day Machzor. From the outset of our journey with Abraham, God knows that Abraham will "instruct his children and posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just." Laws are necessary but there must be a heartfelt desire and attitude, to bend the law to do righteousness. That bending must be done by us.


What motivates us to make a better world? What values does Judaism teach us?

            Mipnei darkei shalom – that things are done out of the interests of peace, wholeness, completeness, comfort and ease, especially of those weakest in society;

            Mipnei tikun ha'olam – for the proper ordering of the world, to fix the wrongs that even laws create or cannot fix; it is our attitude towards others, towards the world;

            Darkei noam – ways of pleasantness, that all people should be able to live a pleasant life.


My dismay over Washington and Richmond is that they don't seem to understand that there is real pain, real agony, felt by so many and little or nothing is done because they seem to lack the vision of a just, true society. It is not a matter of dollars. It is a matter of heart. The Rabbis said that "All is in the hands of heaven except the awe of heaven." That is what is lacking, the awe of heaven. No one is seen as holy. No one is seen as being a child of God. No one sees that we must protect each spark.


That remains our task: to goad leadership at every level, through every organization. For that reason I am a member of PICO, of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, of One Million Moms For Gun Control (despite being a Dad), and of any other organization I can find. I press every "send" button to every congressman, senator and delegate. I lay down on the ground for the vigil for the dead at the Bell Tower sponsored by the Virginia Committee for Public Safety. It is not enough, but it is a start.


What are you doing to change the world?

Will you hear Zechariah and join Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel and struggle to make our country to be based on truth, justice and peace?


Shabbat Shalom. May others besides us also know the peace of Shabbat.