Wednesday, December 27, 2006



The most famous man to say these words to a group of Jews was Joseph in this week's parsha, of course. But he isn't the most recent. In 1962 a group of Jews paid a visit to Pope John 23 and, as the story goes, the Pope came down off his thrown, embraced the men and spoke those words to them.

What was the Pope's intention? As with everything it depends who you ask. The common Catholic interpretation is that the Pope was proclaiming the Jews the long-lost brothers of Catholicism, and asking for a reconciliation. I suppose that's true, but my Jewish ears catch another nuance.

The guilty party in the Joseph story are the brothers. They mistreated Joseph, cast him into a well, stripped him of his clothing and sold him into slavery. When he attempts to reconcile with his brother, the guesture is magnanimous because Joseph was the agreived party.

By posing as Joseph, I think the Pope, on some level, is suggesting that the Jews, like Joseph's brothers, were to blame for the centuries of bad blood between us. The use of Joseph's words sounds like an attempt to echo Joseph's generosity, but the Pope, as leader of the faith that considered us like "sheep brought to slaughter" [*] has no right to do that.

[*]These words are from the Habet prayer, a part of Tachnaun for hundreds of years. I am not referring specifically to the holocaust here.

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