Talking Catholic-Jewish relations, popes and holidays

Here’s hoping you had a good holiday.

Just before Holy Week and Passover, Archbishop Dolan and Arnold Eisen — chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary — had a conversation about Catholic-Jewish relations at the seminary in NYC.

Actually, Dolan spoke. Then the two religious leaders chatted.

According to Catholic New York and the Jewish Week, Dolan said that Catholic-Jewish relations were characterized for a long time by “grievances” but could now focus on a “a dialogue of mutuality,” which I believe means issues of mutual concern.

One issue that Jews and Catholics face, Dolan said, is “stopping the leakage of faithful.”

Dolan acknowledged Jewish support for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, who may have done more for Christian-Jewish relations than anyone. “I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership,” he said.

On the always emotional question of Pope Pius XII’s record of condemning the Holocaust, CNY reported that Dolan said this:

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“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”

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On the same question, Eisen said: “I’m going to leave it to the experts and activists on the Pope Pius XII matter. He [Archbishop Dolan] said he wants to start without preconceptions and with openness. I welcome the initiative.”

On the possibility that Pius could be beatified before the historical record is clear, Eisen said: “I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment if that turns out to be the case. I understand the Church is also moving ahead with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and people will welcome that.”

CNY also reported this exchange:

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During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

NYC seminary to host Jewish/Muslim forum

Just announced: The Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC will host a forum on the Jewish and Muslim experiences in America and how to foster Jewish/Muslim cooperation on Oct. 25.

The 7:30 p.m. program is being sponsored by the seminary (the main seminary of Conservative Judaism), the Islamic Society of North America and Hartford Seminary.

The seminary is hailing the event, called “Judaism and Islam in America Today: Assimilation and Authenticity,” as a “landmark program.”

In 2007, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform Jewish movement, addressed the Islamic Society of North America.

According to a release:

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The participants in the roundtable include Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS; Sherman Jackson, professor of Islam at the University of Michigan; and Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary. The moderator will be Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America and director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. The panel will discuss the shared challenges faced by Jews and Muslims who live in this country, focusing on the delicate balance between assimilation into a predominantly secular and Christian society and the desire to retain one’s religious and cultural authenticity.

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When Eisen became chancellor of the seminary a few years ago, he said that one of his priorities would  be to make JTS a center of Jewish/Muslim dialogue. This would appear to be a step in that direction.

The release also says:

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Despite a history of close relationships and religious dialogue spanning more than a millennium, the difficult recent relations between Jews and Muslims have created a degree of mistrust and misunderstanding that many religious and communal leaders are eager to resolve. Both the workshop and public roundtable will offer an opportunity for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders to come together and discuss the points of commonality in Jewish and Muslim experience in this country. Participants will also explore ways in which American Jews and Muslims, with all that they share, can work toward better cooperation.

Calling for ‘kosher’ standards for BP and other ‘consuming’ bodies

I mentioned yesterday that a group of religious leaders went to the Gulf to “bear witness” to the BP disaster.

One of those leaders is Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of White Plains, the executive VP of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis.

She has a column today on Huffingtonpost.com about the Conservative movement’s initiative for “ethical corporate certification” on kosher foods — a response to scandals at a giant kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The idea is to give certification to kosher foods that are not only kosher in the traditional sense, but have been produced by workers who are treated ethically.

Schonfeld relates the new certification’s standards and goals to the BP mess. She writes:

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Although it was designed for ethical food production, the Magen Tzedek seal, a holistic Jewish response to the responsibilities of food and consumption, can serve as a model for the corrective needed now for BP. The areas of review of the Magen Tzedek speak directly to the tragedy in the Gulf region: environmental responsibility; corporate accountability; worker safety and other concerns and animal welfare.

The Magen Tzedek seeks to give voice to the large and growing need, not only in the Jewish community but throughout the world, to have concrete ways to connect our values to our consumption. Judaism has always recognized that the human being and the human community are creatures of “appetite.”

In a constructive sense, those appetites can be a creative force, driving society forward and give human beings the impetus to achieve. So, Jewish tradition created an extensive body of “sumptuary laws,” principles by which we consume wisely and moderately. The driving principle behind the limits to our individual consumption is a sense that because we are part of a larger human community, we cannot consume in a way that would harm the basic needs of others.

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It’s not related, but…

Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller has a column worth checking out about the high cost of being Jewish.

High cost in a dollars-and-cents sense.

The cost of living an Orthodox Jewish life has been much discussed in recent years. Miller notes that “an Orthodox Jewish family with three children could expect to spend between $50,000 and $110,000 a year on school fees, synagogue dues, summer camps, and kosher food.”

But she focuses on the simple matter of synagogues collecting mandatory fees from members in order to support their budgets and what this means for families during a difficult economic time.

Around here, most congregations charge $3,000 or $4,000 in annual fees — although virtually every one will make concessions for families that can’t afford it.

Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, calls it a “bizarre pay-to-play philosophy.”

But Miller also quotes Arnold Eisen (that’s him), chancellor of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC: “The bills are very high. People need sacred spaces, but when you’re looking at budgets, you’re looking at heat and air conditioning.”