FaithWorld

First rabbis since Holocaust ordained in Poland

New rabbis read Torah at Chabad Yeshiva in Warsaw, 30 June 2008/Kacper Pempel“The opening of our yeshiva (in 2005) and the ordination of the new rabbis is the best answer we can give to Hitler and the Nazis, it shows they did not win,” said Rabbi Shalom Stambler. The ordination of nine new rabbis on Sunday evening in Warsaw, the first in Poland since the Nazis murdered most of what was one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, was a proud moment for the Warsaw-based head representative of Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. “Poland was always a centre of Jewish study in the world,” he said. “People used to come from all over the world to study the Torah here. This was stopped by the Nazis … We hope the yeshiva will grow and grow.”

Read our feature “Pride, hope as Poland ordains first postwar rabbis” here. Apart from his comments in the feature, Rabbi Stambler told me a recent controversy in Poland over a book accusing Poles of persecuting Jews in the years after the Holocaust had told him something about today’s Poles. “I saw how many people entered into the dialogue, students, intellectuals, people who wanted to know how their grandparents had acted,” he said.

Fear, by Jan GrossJan Gross’s book Fear argues that anti-Semitism remained prevalent in Poland under the communist regime after 1945. In a sign of the continued sensitivity of the subject in Poland, state prosecutors investigated whether the book had slandered the Polish nation but finally decided not to press charges.

Stambler said he did not believe there was anti-Semitism in the higher echelons of Polish society, but noted the continued attraction of the ultra-Catholic, often anti-Semitic Radio Maryja among some sections of the population.

Commenting on anti-Semitism, Stambler’s brother Meir, a businessman, said: “Some old people, or young drunks, sometimes shout abuse. There is not plenty (of anti-Semitism) but it exists… But once an old man was screaming at us on a tram and some young people walked up and told him to stop, they were ashamed, they told him to join the 21st century,” he said.

New, younger leaders for France’s Muslims and Jews

This is such a coincidence that some might suspect it wasn’t one. France’s Muslim and Jewish minorities, both the largest of their kind in Europe, elected new leaders on Sunday. In both cases, they opted for younger leaders who promised to play a more active role in their communities. We may see and hear more from these two groups than in the past.

Mohammed Moussaoui, 22 June 2008/Gonzalo FuentesThe French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) chose Mohammed Moussaoui, 44, of the Moroccan-backed Rally of French Muslims group as its new president. Its outgoing president, Dalil Boubakeur, 67, boycotted the election. This is a secular post, so Moussaoui is the top Muslim representative in France, not a theological authority. Although he is an imam, his “day job” is mathematics lecturer at the University of Avignon. After five years of paralysis at the CFCM, it was a breath of fresh air to see him publish an action programme in advance and pledge to reform the council. We covered his election here and the first round of the voting on June 8 here. There are about five million Muslims in France, around 8 percent of the population, and Islam is the second-largest religion here after Roman Catholicism. Moussaoui was born in Morocco and came to France for university studies.

The Rabbi and The Cardinal — Bernheim (l) and Barbarin (r)Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, 56, won election as the new grand rabbi of France, replacing Joseph Sitruk, 63, who had held the post for 21 years and sought reelection. Bernheim is an orthodox rabbi who has frequently spoken out in public on a wide range of issues. A former university chaplain, he is rabbi of the largest Paris synagogue, the Synagogue de la Victoire, and has been active in dialogue with Christians. He recently published “Le rabbin et le cardinal” (The Rabbi and The Cardinal), a long conversation with Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. This commitment to dialogue earned him some criticism during the election campaign from more traditionalist voices in an unusually lively campaign (see this pre-poll article in The Forward). In French, check out reports in Le Monde and RTL radio (audio and text). There are about 600,000 Jews in France.

Another Pius XII controversy as Vatican prepares commemoration

An image depicting Pope Pius XII is displayed at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem April 15, 2007This November, the Vatican will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of wartime Pope Pius XII. There will be a photo exhibition and a conference on his teachings. That’s the official agenda. Although not be part of the program, there will also be controversy.

Vatican officials at a news conference presenting the initiatives appeared to be making a pre-emptive strike against what will most likely resurface during in November — the seemingly never-ending debate about about what Pius did or did not do, what he did or did not know about the Holocaust and whether he could have done more.

“Pius XII never failed to make his voice heard in a clear and explicit way in different circumstances, when needs called for it, and when there was precise information on facts and their consequences could be seen,” said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University.

Debate over who’s a “real Jew” roils Argentine Jewish community

AMIA logoThe 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.”

In interfaith dialogue, beware of Saudis bearing gifts?

Saudi King Abdullah at Mecca interfaith dialogue conference, 4 june 2008/Ho NewSaudi Arabia’s King Abdullah looks determined to get his proposal for an unprecedented Muslim- Christian-Jewish dialogue off the ground. A three-day conference in Mecca to discuss this ended with a soaring declaration of goodwill and benevolent intent. Saudi media reported that Muslim clerics from around the world had supported the call and confirmed that dialogue with other faiths was legitimate in Islam.

The official Saudi Press agency said the meeting recommended holding “conferences, forums and discussion groups between the followers of the prophetic messages and relevant civilisations, cultures and philosophies to which academics, media and religious leaders will be invited”. Given the gazillions Riyadh must be earning with oil at $140 a barrel, it may not be long before we see all sorts of petrodollar-funded “dialogue sessions” being held here and there.

Interfaith dialogue is a good thing, but the recent rising chorus of calls for more such talk hasn’t just emerged out of a vacuum. There is already a decades-long history of dialogue sessions that essentially exchanged pleasantries and generated warm feelings but did little to actually reduce misunderstanding and mistrust. The latest generation of initiatives — for example the Common Word consultations and the “Painful Verses” book we’ve blogged about here — takes the disappointment with earlier efforts as its starting point and aims to tackle the issues that earlier dialogues tended to avoid.

Give Hagee a chance, says McCain ally Lieberman

McCain and Lieberman at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, 18 March 2008/poolThink the uproar over John Hagee’s comments about Hitler, the Holocaust, the Bible and John McCain’s rejection of his endorsement is over? Hardly.

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.”

More interest in Saudi king’s inter-faith talks idea

Saudi King Abdullah, 20 May 2008/Ho NewRemember 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.”

Catholic-Mormon tension over LDS baptism of the dead

Salt Lake Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, 28 May 2007/Lucy NicholsonThe issue of Mormon proxy baptisms has resurfaced with the news that the Vatican has written to Catholic dioceses around the world telling them not to provide parish records to the Genealogical Society of Utah. As the Catholic News Service reported last week, the letter calls proxy baptism using these records “detrimental” and says the Vatican did not want Catholic parishes “to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. Mormons use genealogical data to find names of people to baptise posthumously, a practice the Roman Catholic Church rejects on theological grounds.

The LDS Church has not yet replied, but the comments section of the Church-owned Deseret News has erupted with hundreds of entries. Many are from Mormons who cannot understand why anyone would object to their baptism of the dead. Several criticise the Vatican for withholding the data, arguing it actually belongs to the general public. Other blogs have also been commenting for (mostly Mormon — see here, here, here, here, here) and against (mostly Catholic — see here, here, here, here, here). There are also critical comments from Mormons and ex-Mormons (see here, here, here).

Most of this commentary misses the point. There is no way either side is going to agree on proxy baptisms; different religions exist precisely because they disagree on fundamental issues. It is also futile to argue about religious freedom, because obviously both Churches have the right to practise their faith. The idea that one religion’s teachings give it a right to another religion’s data is also a non-starter.

Jew for Jesus could win Israel Bible quiz

An Israeli with the Jewish Bible, 27 July 2004/Gil Cohen MagenA 17-year-old Israeli girl is a leading contender to win the country’s annual youth Bible quiz, but there’s a controversial twist: She believes in Jesus.

Tipped off about Bat El Levy’s beliefs, an anti-missionary group has called on religious Jews to boycott the May 8 contest, at which she will compete against 15 other teenagers from Israel and abroad for a prize awarded by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The group, Yad L’Ahim, has invoked Israeli law forbidding Christians from proselytizing in the Jewish state. But there is more at stake in the quiz, which is held on Israel’s 60th
Independence Day — the question of who has a better command of holy writ.

Why do Jews want Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” published in Germany?

Mein Kampf in English translation, Educa Books, 2006It sounds counter-intuitive. German Jews want Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — the 1925 book that spells out his plan for a Nazi state and gives expression to his extreme anti-Semitism — to be published in Germany. The Central Council of Jews in Germany would be ready to help edit the new edition and pressure the Bavarian state government (which owns the rights and blocks publication) to issue it. As our Berlin correspondent Dave Graham reported, Stephan Kramer, the Central Council ‘s general secretary, made the suggestion in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio (here are the DLF text report and audio in German).

Kramer said things had changed since Bavaria banned its publication in the initial post-war years as a way to thwart a revival of Nazi ideology. “Through the Internet and other media, the book is widely available abroad. Especially in far-right wing circles, there has been what you might call a romanticising of the book Mein Kampf, so I personally and we in the Central Council now feel a publicly available version of Mein Kampf with critical commentaries would now be much more helpful. It would make clear to readers who access it what crude stuff was written there,” he said.

Meanwhile in Austria, work has begun on a spoof biopic of Hitler called — what else? — “Mein Kampf.” It’s based on a play of the same name by the late Hungarian-Jewish playwright George Tabori and will premiere in Germany next year.