Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On that Cardinal's proposal

Yesterday we reported (with an assist from blues singer Mississippi Fred MacDowell) that Cardinal Francis George believes one stray, and little-known Talmudic opinion is the equivalent of the Good Friday prayer all Catholics everywhere once recited about perfidious Jews. Argues his Eminence: Now that the hate mongering prayer has been dropped, shouldn't Jews acknowledge the goodness, charity and mercy of the Catholic church by excising the bit from Yebamoth 49b about Jesus being a bastard?

Only not so fast.

First, no less a luminary than Gil Student has argued that the passage isn't really about Jesus. (I think he's wrong, but never mind.) Moreover, as some of my readers said yesterday, asking us to change the Talmud is like asking them to rewrite the Gospels. And, as others pointed out, the word the Talmud uses (mamzer) isn't an insult or a pejorative. Its simply the legal description of the offspring of a forbidden union. But more to the point, the passage isn't a prayer, it was never recited, or even studied by Jews the world over, and it has done nothing to form a communal view of Christianity. No Jew ever embarked on a murderous rampage after studying Yebamoth. If only Catholics were historically so well behaved on Good Friday.

But the really offensive thing about the Cardinal's proposal is that it brings us back to the 19th century when socialism, modernism and Americanism were on the rise, and the Church was running for its life. Though no Pope ever blamed America on the Jews, for about 100 years the Vatican, its newspapers and its spokemen identified Jews as the leaders of an international campaign against the Church. This bizzare view of history lives on today in men like Kurt-Peter Gumpel, the German Jesuit responsible for the cause of Pope Plus XII's canonization who said in 1998 that Jews need an `examination of conscience' for injuries to Catholic church. Why? Because we were "managers" of Soviet communism in its initial stages and "massive accomplices in the destruction of the Catholic church." By suggesting that we remove an ambiguous phrase from the Talmud, Cardinal George has bought into that ahistorical attitude.

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