Explaining the Former Pope’s Recent Thoughts on the Jews’ Return to Israel

In October of last year, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI wrote an essay, in the form of a private letter, on the Catholic Church’s understanding of itself vis-à-vis Jews and the Jewish state. More recently, Kurt Cardinal Koch, the Vatican official in charge of Jewish-Catholic relations, convinced Benedict to allow for its publication. (It can be found in German here. An English translation is not yet available.) Pinchas Goldschmidt reflects on the document:

While Benedict’s essay revolves mainly about the use, misuse, or disuse of the substitution theology of the Church regarding the Jews, [that is, the idea that the Church replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people], it also tries to clarify theologically the terminologies used in recent Vatican statements regarding the Jews. Benedict highlights the importance of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple for Christian theology, allowing the substitution of the body of Jesus for the physical temple, with the crucifixion and resurrection symbolizing the creation of a new model of temple and of sacrifice. In departure from Church doctrine as it existed before Nostra Aetate, [Vatican II’s 1965 declaration formulating the Church’s relationship with other faiths], Benedict sees Jews in dispersion [not as suffering divine punishment for their rejection of Jesus] but as a people with a mission to sanctify and publicize the name of God. . . .

However, the really interesting part of Benedict’s words comes when he deals with the promised land. Here, we see his struggle with the religious meaning of the return of the Jews to Zion. If the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple is [a metaphor for] the resurrection of Jesus and the messianic idea is the spread of the Catholic Church, then the return of the Jews to Zion after 2,000 years of exile is theologically problematic.

Benedict [thus states], in essence, that a Jewish religious state, which claims the fulfillment of the biblical messianic promises of redemption, was seen in the Christian system of belief as an impossibility and a total rejection of Christian exegesis of the biblical messianic promises. Benedict then explains what has changed in the Vatican since then, making the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Jewish State in 1993 possible: the creation of the state of Israel and the Vatican’s recognition thereof would be only possible in this context based on the history of political Zionism, which could be seen as a secular national-liberation movement.

This approach also explains why, when diplomatic relations were finally established and Israel contemplated sending Rabbi David Rosen—the architect of the rapprochement of the Vatican and Israel—as its first ambassador, the Vatican subtly signaled its wish to get a secular professional diplomat instead.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at World Jewish Congress

More about: Benedict XVI, Jewish-Catholic relations, Religion & Holidays, Second Vatican Council, Supersessionism, Zionism

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank