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Jews don't need to be redeemed

July 27, 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Jews don't need to be redeemed, by Rachel Patron.

The 17th century English poet, Andrew Marvel, pleaded with his "Coy Mistress" to surrender to him, because he could not wait an eternity. The "eternity" he defined as: "till the conversion of the Jews."

Ah, the conversion of the Jews! What a tantalizing prospect for every occupant of St. Peter's throne, including the present Pope, Benedict the XVI, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger of Munich, Germany.

Every rumble in today's Catholic Church can be traced back to the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65, convened by Pope John the XXIII, who during World War II had saved tens of thousands of Jews by issuing to them fake baptismal certificates. At its conclusion the conference published a revolutionary document known as "Nostra Aetate," in which Jews were absolved of the murder of Jesus. Wow, I thought at the time, remembering how, at age 6, I had been beaten bloody by Russian boys, who kept screaming at me: You killed our Lord Jesus Christ!

In a nod to modernity, Vatican II also substituted the traditional Latin Mass with prayers in languages spoken by the faithful. This worked just fine for over 40 years. But on July 7th, Pope Benedict signed an edict upholding the Church's right to return to its core rituals, most notably, the old Latin Mass. Simple enough, unless we remember that on Good Friday — the day Jesus was crucified — close to a billion Catholics will once more pray for the conversion of the Jews.

Jewish groups, such as the Anti Defamation League, the Wiesenthal Center, and the American Jewish Committee, objected in shock and disbelief; to which, last week, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Holy See Secretary of State, responded that "we could simply study" the possibility of substituting "conversion" with a less offensive noun. In fact, the Pope's original July 7th announcement contained a provision to revisit the matter in three years. Why so long? I'm asking. Who needs three years — more than 1,000 days!— to reflect if to start a debate into the possibility that in the 21st century, the Jews — to whom John Paul referred as "our older brothers" — should be decreed as spiritually-illegitimate and candidates for missionary intervention? History teaches us that the very mention that the Jews are once more unholy, may provoke classical religious anti-Semitism — and God only knows what else may follow.

Seriously, we could never comprehend why this Christian obsession to convert us — an introverted religion that never aimed to convert anyone. In fact, the Israeli National Conversion Authority is the only such institution in the world whose official purpose is to dissuade applicants from converting to Judaism. Or, as my mother would say: Why do you want to look for trouble?

Anyone who studied the history of Judea under the Romans before and after the events surrounding the Crucifixion, would appreciate why the Jews' rejection of Jesus appeared to subsequent Church leaders as a misunderstanding. After all, at least in the beginning, more united than divided mainstream Judaism and what the Galillean was preaching. Clearly, Church fathers reasoned, this early misunderstanding could be corrected at any time. After all, it's never too late to become a Christian. Just imagine, if 1st and 2nd century Jews accepted Jesus — the whole world would be Jewish! Still, it demonstrates the perversity of my people that we're not a bit sorry; an attitude for which we are accused of being arrogant, elitist, racist, and, apparently, worthy of another push to return us to godliness.

Here's a case in point: At UCLA I shared an apartment with a Catholic friend, who invited me to her parents' house for Christmas. I was thrilled: a Christmas tree, shiny faces, just like an old MGM movie. On Christmas Day, at the table, my friend's mother said that because she loved me so much, she'd spent the previous evening praying for my salvation. Not knowing how to react without being rude, I opted for the sin of hypocrisy, and told them I was kosher. My meal consisted of string beans and mince meat pie.

What I really wanted to tell my benighted hostess was that we don't want to be saved because we consider ourselves more sinned against than sinning; and because we are taught that decency here on earth counts for more than a thousand points of light en route to paradise. That's why we atone for our sins only one day a year. But, even for Yom Kippur, Pope Benedict has a different take: "The death on the cross is thus theologically explained by its .... link to the Day of Atonement and understands the death of Christ itself as the great event of Atonement." (Cardinal Ratzinger, Reconciling Gospel & Torah, April 1, 1996)

Israeli writer and Vatican researcher, Sergio I. Minerbi, writing recently in the Israeli Journal of Foreign Affairs, claims that the Vatican has been trying for years to Christianize the Holocaust: 2,000 years ago one Jew died to redeem humanity; and in this generation 6 million Jews died to redeem humanity. It's a very neat and tempting parallel. Maybe it's the reason why a 25-foot cross stands in front of Auschwitz, the camp described by Pope John Paul II as "the Golgotha of the modern world."

Does this make the 47 members of my family who perished in the Holocaust, including my grandfather Rabbi Jacob Meyer Rakowski, Christian martyrs?

I want to say this to all well-meaning Christians: We don't want to be saved, redeemed, forgiven, reincarnated, resurrected, or enraptured. We just want to be left alone. After 2,000 years — is it so much to ask?

Rachel Patron is a writer in Boca Raton. Her commentary runs on alternate Fridays. E-mail her at rachel_patron@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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