OK, it happened a few days ago, but I still can’t get over that “Christian” fist fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem between the Greek Orthodox and Armenians. Our photo desk has put together a slide show of Ammar Awad’s shots from the scene — click here to see it.
Does Sony need a full-time religious affairs adviser? Someone who says “that’s OK” or “whoa, don’t go there!” It looks like they could use one, judging by its decision to recall and remaster its Playstation 3 video game LittleBigPlanet because it might offend Muslims. LittleBigPlanet was supposed to be one of the biggest releases of the season. And then Sony found out some background music had a few phrases from the Koran in it and they decided to replace the disks with different music. An in-house religion maven who does some “content debugging” would cost much less than this embarrassing exercise.
Sony isn’t the only company to trip over religious sensitivities. Microsoft had to withdraw its Xbox fighter game Kakuto Chojin; Back Alley Brutal in 2003 because of Koran verses chanted in the background. Back in 1998, Muslims accused Nike of sacrilege for selling sneakers bearing a logo showing the word “air” written in fiery letters that looked like the Arabic word “Allah.” Nike ended up withdrawing the shoes, giving sensitivity training to employees and building playgrounds at several mosques in Virginia.
Muslims haven’t been the only ones complaining. A French jeans poster showing women imitating Jesus Christ and his apostles in the Leonardo da Vinci painting, “The Last Supper”, was banned in France and Italy after Catholics there complained. A leading anti-Semitism watchdog howled last spring when a South Korean cosmetics company advertised a skin lotion with a picture of a young woman sporting what appears to be a Nazi officer’s hat.
The dispute over Pope Pius XII’s public silence about the Holocaust (background here) widened over the weekend. At the same time, Pope Benedict came in for criticism for his own silence, this time about organised crime in the Naples area during a visit to nearby Pompei . A local newspaper had (wrongly) reported he would publicly condemn the Camorra, as the local mafia is known. His spokesman insisted the visit to a Marian shrine (the purpose of the trip) was purely spiritual.
The Pius dispute heated up when Rev. Peter Gumpel, the German Jesuit who is the postulator for the late pope’s cause for sainthood, told the Italian news agency ANSA on Saturday that Benedict was delaying the beatification of Pius because it would harm relations with Jews. He also said Benedict could not visit Israel until a caption under a photograph of Pius at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial was changed. The caption said Pius “abstained from signing the Allied declaration condemning the extermination of the Jews”. The Vatican denies that charge and says Pius did all he could to save Jews.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied the caption was holding up any papal visit to Israel. Without naming them, he also told both Gumpel and Pius’s critics to lay off Benedict. “In this situation, it is not opportune to exercise pressure on him from one side or the other,” he said.
The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has lost no time in rejecting the criticism of Pope Pius XII’s Holocaust record made by Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the Haifa Chief Rabbi who addressed a synod of bishops on Tuesday. Editor-in-chief Gian Maria Vian wrote a front-page editorial today saying charges that he turned a blind eye to the Nazi massacre of European Jews was a “black legend” not backed up by history.
“He confronted the wartime tragedy like no leader of his time did. Even when faced with the monstrous persecution of the Jews [he worked] in a suffered silence which is understandable and whose aim was an efficient endeavor of charity and undeniable help,” Vian wrote in the editorial “In memoria di Pio XII” (In Memory Of Pius XII).
Vian said Pius had been unfairly accused of being insensitive to the Holocaust and even pro-Nazi. He has also been unfairly contrasted with his successor, the popular Pope John XXIII. The Church had the duty, he said, to uphold the memory of Pius XII and his service to it. Read the whole news story here.
Just as the Vatican is gearing up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, two Jews have spoken out to recall the darker side of his papacy. Their tone is neither shrill nor polemical, unlike many articles and books that have appeared over the years accusing Pius of being “Hitler’s Pope” and not doing enough to save Jews from the Holocaust. They do not seem keen to pick an argument with the Vatican just as it is preparing to hold what may be its most open defence of the controversial pontiff. But they raise difficult questions that remain even after Pope Benedict insisted his predecessor “spared no effort” to save Jews during World War Two.
Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen (photo above), the first Jew to address a Vatican synod, told the Roman Catholic bishops there that Jews “cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise their voice in the effort to save our brethren but chose to keep silent and helped secretly. We cannot forgive and forget it and we hope that you understand.”
The chief rabbi of Haifa in Israel, 80, was less diplomatic a few hours earlier in an interview with our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella: “We feel that the late pope (Pius) should have spoken up much more strongly than he did … He may have helped in secrecy many of the victims and many of the refugees but the question is ‘could he have raised his voice and would it have helped or not?’ …
Germany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case has ended with a partial victory for the defendant. A court in the western city of Cologne has upheld an injunction banning the prominent German-Jewish writer Henryk Broder from calling another German Jew an anti-Semite. But it said the ban only applied to his blistering personal attack on Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, daughter of the deceased former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Heinz Galinski. If it had been expressed in a more factual way, it said, the statement would have been protected as free speech.
The dispute, which the Jerusalem Post dubbed a case of “kosher anti-Semitism,” started back in May when Broder posted a letter on the website Die Achse des Guten (The Axis of Good) complaining to WDR radio in Cologne for interviewing Hecht-Galinski for a programme on Israel’s 60th anniversary. In her comments, Hecht-Galinski compared Israel’s policy towards Palestinians to Nazi policy towards Jews. Broder wrote: “Mrs EHG is an hysterical, egoistic housewife who is talking for nobody but herself and is uttering nothing but nonsense anyway. Her speciality are thoughtless anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic statements, which are a fleeting fad once again.”
Hecht-Galinksi obtained a court injunction against him calling her an anti-Semite (which explains why the adjective “anti-Semitic” has since been xxx’ed out of Broder’s letter on the web). She argued that Broder, an active defender of Israel who has written a series of books dealing with the relationship between Germans and Jews, was trying to silence criticism of Israel. “Especially in the face of our common past, critical comments on committed injustices must be possible, also if they concern Israel,” she wrote in a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The newly elected president of Argentina’s biggest Jewish community center sparked a firestorm when he was quoted in the press as saying he wanted the group to represent “genuine Jews” who live strictly by the Torah.
Guillermo Borger is the first Orthodox Jew elected to head the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) center in Buenos Aires, which was founded 114 years ago. Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America with nearly 200,000 members.
Borger was quoted last weekend by Argentina’s biggest daily newspaper Clarin as saying he planned to “reinforce AMIA’s role in representing genuine Jews.” When asked what made a Jew genuine, he said: “It’s having a life based on all the Torah’s teachings.”
U.S. news networks have been abuzz with the latest twist to the saga — a Hagee endorsement (of sorts) from renegade Democrat-turned-independent Senator Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman, who is Jewish, said in a statement posted on his website on Wednesday that “I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful. I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works.”
Remember that unexpected comment that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah made in March that he wanted to hold an inter-faith dialogue with Christians and Jews? The Vatican welcomed it and the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronot reported that Saudi muftis were sending out feelers to Israeli rabbis about attending such talks, a report which was swiftly denied in Riyadh.
FaithWorld’s take on it at the time was sceptical. As Andrew Hammond in Riyadh wrote: “The king is seen in Saudi Arabia as a reformer but one who has been outmaneuvered by the powerful religious establishment and their allies in the royal family. The interfaith conference call may be a kind of trial balloon launched to see what kind of reaction it gets in a country where liberals and religious conservatives are engaged in an ideological struggle for the future of Saudi Arabia.”
The World Jewish Congress issued a statement on Monday welcoming the king’s proposal. It quoted WJC President Ronald Lauder as saying many obstacles still stood in the way but “King Abdullah’s initiative is a laudable step forward. We hope that other religious and political leaders throughout the world will be encouraged to join.” WJC Governing Board Chairman Matthew Bronfman added: “The World Jewish Congress is ready to participate in any serious inter-faith talks that are based on mutual respect.”
Jews are returning to Russia. For as long as anyone alive can remember, the flow was mostly in the other direction. But Amie Ferris-Rotman and Conor Sweeney in our Moscow bureau have found a return wave, despite a persistent anti-Semitism there:
Around one million Jews fled during the Soviet era and the post-communist chaos. Those returning now from Israel, the United States and Europe hope to use their new skills and old knowledge to do business.
“Now there are services here, like in New York and Paris, but the lifestyle is more interesting than in either of them — it’s easy to understand why thousands are coming back,” said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress.