Ecumenical Dialogue
Prominent Rabbi’ on the Traditional Good Friday Prayer: “It Doesn’t Bother Me”

Mark Alessio

According to Blaise Schweitzer of The Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY – July 20, 2007), Doubleday Publications has offered a proposal to Pope Benedict XVI to co-author a book with Rabbi Jacob Neusner, author of the 1993 book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus:

Rabbi Jacob Neusner of Rhinebeck has been an internationally sought news source lately, mostly because of the attention paid to him in Pope Benedict XVI's current book, "Jesus of Nazareth." By extensively weighing and debating Neusner's analysis of Jesus' life in the book, the pope triggered a flurry of interview requests and additional writing assignments for Neusner.

The Pope (then Cardinal Ratzinger), and Neusner began corresponding in 1993 after the publication of Neusner’s book. In his own 2007 book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict devotes 20 pages to A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. In an article titled, “The Pope’s Favorite Rabbi,” which appeared in Time Magazine (May 24, 2007), David Van Biema summarized Neusner’s book thusly:

In that volume, the professor (now at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.) and noncongregational rabbi projected himself back into the Gospel of Matthew to quiz Jesus on the Jewish law. He found the Nazarene's interpretation irredeemably faulty.... Neusner asserted that any thoughtful Jew must conclude that Jesus was actually "abandoning the Torah" and reject him. He also suggested that insofar as Matthew's arguments are based in Jewish law, Christianity may be flawed by its own standards.

Pope Benedict and Rabbi Neusner, whom the Holy Father has called “a great Jewish scholar,” have never met in person. However, Benedict’s citing of A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, 14 years after the book’s publication, has resulted in the offer by Doubleday to produce a book to be co-written by the two men, which would elaborate on the debate taken up in their respective writings.

Rabbi Neusner admits that he was “amazed” when he learned that the Pope had scrutinized his work in Jesus of Nazareth. He labeled Benedict’s book “an academic love letter.” Blaise Schweitzer observes:

In fact, a close reading of the Pope's chapter suggests more a marriage of convenience. Benedict is preoccupied with what he sees as the Gospel's overriding message of Jesus' divinity, even in passages that liberal Christians read primarily as straightforward injunctions to help the poor and powerless. Having a rabbi help make that case is novel and convenient. Regarding one verse, Benedict writes that "Neusner shows us that we are dealing not with some kind of moralism, but with a highly theological text, or, to put it more precisely, a Christological one." He acknowledges the rabbi's point that Jesus is offering the Jews a transformation rather than a continuation of the Torah but maintains that the trade-off is worth it, provided Jesus is not merely "a liberal reform rabbi" but "the Son."

Rabbi Jacob Neusner may be a great scholar in the field of Judaism, but when it comes to the Gospels, his insight fails him. To cite only two examples, he believes that Our Lord’s words, "he who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me," are opposed to the Fourth Commandment, and that His teaching that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" flies in the face of the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. Perhaps that’s why Pope Benedict had to remind the rabbi that Jesus is, indeed, GOD.

The fact that someone – Jew, Gentile or atheist – has written a book denying the Divinity of the Redeemer is not news. Such books are as ubiquitous as Harry Potter books. No, this story is interesting on an unrelated point. When asked about the restoration of the Latin Mass and the traditional Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews, Neusner replied that it does not bother him. In fact, he said, “I've pointed out that the synagogue liturgy has an equivalent prayer which we say three times a day, not just once a year.”

This is a very interesting statement on the part of the rabbi. The following blessing (Baruch atah Hashem Elokenu melech haolam, shelo asani goy)  is recited every day by Orthodox and Conservative Jews: “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who did not make me a Gentile.”

This prayer should not bother non-Jews in the least. If one believes that the Jews were chosen by God to bring His light to the nations, and that the entire history of salvation hinges on God’s relationship to the Jewish people, why should one not say such a prayer?

In an article for The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (July 11, 2007), Abraham Foxman, National Director of the ADL, cited both the Good Friday prayer’s alleged “condescending references” which “conjure up the great suffering and pain imposed on the Jews by the church through the centuries,” as well as the “tone” of the prayer, which supposedly “runs counter to the new relationship and language fostered by the Vatican for decades to change Catholic attitudes toward Jews,” as “reason[s] enough for anger.”

To Foxman, a call for God’s blessings upon the Jews is “reason enough for anger.” So, to paraphrase Jesus Christ, which is it easier to say, “Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ,” or “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who did not make me a Gentile.” Each summarizes a theological world view. Where is the harm in either?

Let Foxman and the other doomsayers sink their teeth into the Baruch atah...shelo asani goy if they need to justify their cash-cow operations. In fact, another blessing (Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, shelo asani ishah) uttered by Orthodox and Conservative Jews goes, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who did not make me a woman.” Why isn’t the pro-abortion Foxman dancing his little jigs of anger over that?

Foxman wrote, of the Latin Mass and Good Friday liturgy, “It is our hope that the decision is not one written in stone and that Catholics and Jews of good will can work together to persuade the Holy See to re-examine its decision.” I don’t recall the last time (or any time, for that matter) that Catholics have attempted to influence the prayers or liturgical practices of the Jewish people. Looks like Foxman and company’s much vaunted “religious liberty” is a one-way street.

Want More News?

Included in the rest of Mark Alessio's "Remnant News Watch" column this week are the following reports:

1) President of Chicago Theological Seminary Claims Latin Mass Promotes Sexual Abuse.  

2) “God Is Not Great,” Says Christopher Hitchens.

3) Ancient Roman Pilgrimage Route to be Restored. 

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