Two Opinions on Yad Vashem

Benedict watches as Vatican representatives lay a wreath at Yad Vashem.
Benedict watches as Vatican representatives lay a wreath at Yad Vashem. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Posted by Register Holy Land correspondent Michele Chabin:

In a New York Times forum, several prominent Jews weighed in on Pope Benedict’s speech at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial earlier this week. Some Jews felt the speech was too impersonal, given that the Pope is German-born and, by his own admission, was a member of the Nazi Youth movement, if only on paper and only because he was forced to join.

Others defended the Pope by focusing not just on his words but on his actions.

Here are two differing opinions:

Daniel Gordis (senior vice president, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem): “The Pope’s mistake was that he assumed the role of diplomat rather than religious leader. There was nothing technically wrong with what he said at Yad Vashem. But in choosing such carefully measured, tepid language, he said nothing that an ordinary diplomat could not have uttered. We heard none of the passion, the fury or the shattered heart that is the hallmark of genuine religious courage and leadership. Atop Mount Scopus, Pope Benedict literally gazed upon the hilltops that Amos walked when he begged that ‘justice flow like a mighty river’ and that Jesus called home when he demanded a renewed moral order. With anguished self-reflective contrition (he is German, after all), or with a courageous call that Palestinians should have a state but must also publicly proclaim that Jews need a home to call their own, too, the Pope could have assumed the mantle of the man of God in the tradition of those who have come here before him.” — from The New York Times forum

Abe Foxman (national director of the Anti-Defamation League): “Yet a close examination of Benedict’s text and actions shows that he did deliver an appropriate speech focusing on the concepts of remembrance. He also met briefly with Holocaust survivors. It must be noted also that in recent months Benedict has made strong statements repudiating Holocaust denial. And, in the past, Benedict has talked about his personal experiences as a member of Hitler Youth and the Germany Army. Therefore, it would do us well to keep things in perspective and recognize what this pope has said and done. By coming to Israel at this time, the 82-year-old pontiff is solidifying the Vatican’s formal relationship with the state of Israel, launched when a historic diplomatic agreement was signed in 1993. His trip demonstrates the Church’s commitment to the security and survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Benedict is also establishing a track record for future popes. No longer will Pope John Paul’s journey be able to be portrayed as an aberration or a personal mission. Indeed, Benedict’s trip will institutionalize that every pope visit Israel and commit the billion-member Roman Catholic Church to the importance of Israel as the Jewish state.” — from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency