Catholic Bishops Give Up on Converting Jews

U.S. bishops’ group to remove controversial passage from June statement

(Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in June intending to clarify its position on relations with Jews. While it had been understood, at least since the publication of a 2002 document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” that Catholics respected Jews’ unique covenant with God, which “must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people,” the new statement specified that “the Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.”

This language raised a red flag to Jewish leaders, who saw a backtracking away from the revolution in Jewish-Catholic relations brought on by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, and a coalition quickly responded with an official letter detailing their disappointment. In August, Eric J. Greenberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s associate director of interfaith affairs and one of the primary authors of the letter, explained his concern to Tablet Magazine: “Based on the last 45 years, the Catholics and Jews have a special relationship.” The new statement, he said then, “invites us to apostasy. We need to be vigilant because the stakes are so high based on our history.” Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, told Tablet he was dismayed by the “implication that every time we meet there is a subliminal desire to bring us into the church.”

Their protest paid off. The JTA reports:

In a letter to the Jewish groups, the bishops said it would change the document to eliminate the disputed passage and affirmed that Catholic-Jewish dialogue “has never been and will never be used by the Catholic Church as a means of proselytism … nor is it a disguised invitation to baptism.” They also said the Mosaic covenant—a conditional covenant made between God and the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-24)—“endures till the present day.”

The Jewish coalition has responded with gratitude: “We welcome the fact that the bishops not only heard our concerns, but are making efforts to be responsive to them.”

Catholic Bishops to Edit Interfaith Document [JTA]
Jewish Leaders Welcome Removal of Conversionary Language from American Catholic Document [ADL]

Daybreak: Obama ‘Woos’ Israelis

Plus Iran responds, the high cost of kosher, and more in the news


• President Barack Obama sent a video to Israel to commemorate the 14th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination; Haaretz calls the move a “bid to woo Israelis.” [Haaretz]
• Iran has officially responded to the International Atomic Energy Organization on the U.N. nuclear plan for the country, to which it seeks “major revisions.” [Haaretz]
• Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said he does “not rule out the possibility” that Israel was responsible for the rocket fired from Lebanon on Tuesday, which he sees as “an excuse for Israel to keep violating Lebanon’s sovereignty.” [Ynet]
• At a meeting in Brussels, European rabbis discussed the problem of high kosher food costs on their continent, which “often place them at a disadvantage when they attempt to present Torah Judaism in a positive light.” [JPost]

Sundown: Kosher Food Porn

A cuddly Jewish monster, another con man, and multi-denominational togetherness


• The folks at Vos iz Neias are pretty excited about what they turned up at Kosherfest, a trade show that took place this week in New Jersey; the site’s photo gallery gushes over the first kosher sangria, an “oil bottle with an extra-long spout,” and a package of raw mystery meat inexplicably labeled “beautiful.” [VIN]
• In the latest scam on philanthropically minded Jews, a California man has been convicted of tricking people into buying religious travel packages to Cuba to help the Jewish community there and then running off with their money. [Courthouse News Service]
• Seth Rogen spills the beans about the character he voices in the upcoming Monsters Vs. Aliens animated Halloween special: “B.O.B. is Jewish; most people don’t know that. He’s actually Orthodox.” Could be—according to Wikipedia, the creature’s “main goal is to digest things.” [Star Pulse]
• A multi-denominational delegation of Los Angeles rabbis took a trip to Israel, where, between laying wreaths and shaking hands, they discovered that, “While we may have difficulty praying together, and we do, we can learn together, and now we even teach together.” [JPost]

Ultra-Ortho Jew Saves Gay Palestinian

Only in the West Bank, kids

(David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images)

How’s this for a dilemma? A Palestinian man, identified as “T.” in Ynet’s account of his saga, is gay and in a committed relationship with an Israeli, Doron. They can’t get married, not only because they’re gay, but because T. is not Jewish. T. is in the process of trying to get authorized for “family unification,” which would allow him permanent-resident status in Israel, but it doesn’t seem forthcoming, so he lives there without health insurance, a bank account, or a driver’s license. Nor can T. return to live in his hometown in the West Bank, because the community’s outrage at his sexual orientation makes even a visit there “life-threatening,” and even if it didn’t, it’s unlikely that Doron would be accepted there. Have a headache yet?

It gets worse: T.’s father gets sick, so T. arranges to visit him near a checkpoint on the Israel-West Bank border. When he tries to cross back and return to his home in Israel, T. gets entangled in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare of lost permits, unspecified “security considerations,” and endless waiting. “So,” says Ynet, “this is how it came to be that T., a gay Palestinian, has been hiding out in the home of a religious Jewish family in a settlement.” That’s right—apparently, T. has an old friend who happens to be a settler, and the unlikely hero has given him asylum for the 10 days that have passed since the border-crossing fiasco began. In a situation in which everyone’s perspective is seen as extreme by everyone else, an ultra-Orthodox man—who represents possibly the most hotly-contested population in the troubled land—turns out to be the bearer of reasonable compassion.

Religious Settler Comes to Aid of Gay Palestinian [Ynet]

Is J Street More Centrist Than Its Members?

Conference attendees suspect they’re to the left of the group


J Street has devoted much of its young life to trying to convince the conservative segments of the Jewish community that it’s not a left-wing organization. And indeed, nowhere at the left-leaning Israel lobby’s first conference this week did J Street organizers give an indication of being anything but staunch supporters and lovers of Israel—though ones who see that country’s political future darkening without a two-state solution. But it also seemed that the liberal blogger Richard Silverstein was onto something when he told Tablet Magazine, “The impression that a lot of us are getting is that the rank and file of attendees of the conference are to the left of J Street.”

On a few occasions at the just-ended event, this tendency was on public display: the booing Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform movement, received when he put down U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone; the semi-official convening of bloggers like Silverstein that the Weekly Standard took as evidence of J Street’s true left-wing nature; and the rumor(unfounded, as it turned out) that J Street’s college division had dropped “pro-Israel” from its motto. Far more commonplace, though, were participants who gave no indication—other than, perhaps, being outfitted in flowing scarves rather than Congress-ready suits—of departing from J Street’s party line but who, in conversation, acknowledged that their personal politics were further left of the organization’s. They weren’t wed to the idea of Israel being a Jewish as well as democratic state, for instance—but they also seemed happy to behave themselves for the sake of the organization.

“I see it as a division of labor,” said Michael Feinberg, a New York rabbi and labor activist, who wouldn’t go into detail about his politics because he’d “already been so trashed about the issue” from some on the right, he said. “J Street’s policies are not mine, exactly, though they’re closer to it than many other groups. But I’m not looking for a perfect fit, I’m looking to get something done. Let’s get the big policy work done and then we can fight it out within the family.” Elizabeth Bolton, a Reconstructionist rabbi from Baltimore active in Rabbis for Human Rights, agreed. Bolton said she was disappointed, for instance, that Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s executive director, criticized Goldstone as well, but, she said, “Ben Ami is trying to push the policy perspectives of the American government. I don’t want to be naïve.”

Other participants said that, since long before J Street formed, they’ve been accustomed to framing their opinions carefully when doing activist work with some of the smaller organizations that participated in the conference. “I tend to want to be more outspoken and it was made clear to me that if I wanted to join Brit Tzedek, I needed to deliver a certain message,” said Linda Iacovini, a member of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, which is being absorbed into J Street next year. “I had a friend who didn’t want to join because of that.” That’s fine, said J Street spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick, as long as participants understand that the group is “an explicitly pro-Israel organization, and it’s not going to be otherwise.”

Amnesty Says Israel Is Denying Water to Palestinians

Rights group says territories receive insufficient water supplies


Israel is hogging clean drinking water, providing settlers with almost unlimited supplies while providing insufficient amounts to Palestinians, according to an Amnesty International report released yesterday. The report says that most Palestinians don’t have enough water for the level of per-person daily use recommended by the World Health Organization. Israel’s Water Authority disputes the charges, offering evidence that Palestinians have more water than the Amnesty report details, but it hasn’t yet provided a solid defense to the human-rights abuses Amnesty International alleges stem from the large discrepancy in water usage between Israeli and Palestinian populations. (The report offers only scant criticism of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Water Authority, but it does note that around 40 percent of water diverted to Palestinians is lost through faulty infrastructure.)

Critics of the report maintain that it ignores the complexities of Israel’s history and geography, and international law, in order to portray Israel negatively. “Amnesty’s report manipulates the issue of water and ignores the complexities of history and law in order to again falsely portray Israel as a brutal regime,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg told the Jerusalem Post. “Rather than recognize that water supply is a complex regional issue, Amnesty focuses only on Palestinian shortages.”

Water Authority Blasts Amnesty on Report [JPost]
Israel ‘Cutting Palestinian Water’ [Al Jazeera]

West Bank Labor Pains

Palestinian workers governed by Jordanian laws, weaker than Israel’s


The Israeli settlement Ma’aleh Adumim, which operates as an independent municipality in the West Bank, is expected to be incorporated into Israel in any two-state solution. Home to about 30,000 residents, 99.8 percent of whom are Jews, Ma’aleh Adumin is the settlement that Israelis pointed to the most when arguing against the Obama administration’s now-scuttled “settlement freeze” policy. How can any government stop a city that big from growing? And although the city is all but a de facto Israeli possession, a little discussed problem is how its vanishingly small Palestinian population is governed by a different set of labor laws. Jordan has been responsible for administering labor legislation in the occupied territories since 1965. So the 80 members of the Jahleen Bedouin tribe, who are technically Ma’aleh Adumin citizens, still answer to those policies with respect to their employment. As a result, Palestinians in Ma’aleh Adumin don’t receive the same benefits as Israelis do when it comes to rehabilitation pay, pensions, travel expenses, education funding, and religious dispensations. (It didn’t help that they all signed a separate agreement in 2005 with the municipal authorities reaffirming their alien work status.) In recent weeks, a number of Bedouin workers went on strike after their request for time off to attend Muslim Friday prayers was denied—a right that Arab Israelis enjoy under the more liberal Israeli labor law. “We are not trying to avoid the image of a settlement—this is an image that does not exist,” Eli Har-Nir, the director of the municipality who fired three of the workers, told Haaretz. Roughly translated: 80 Palestinians aren’t worth re-writing the municipal code.

in Ma’aleh Adumim Employed by Israel But on Jordanian Terms

Today on Tablet

Poetry, television, and two fascinating characters


Our podcast, Vox Tablet, features host Sara Ivry’s interview with Benjamin Moser, whose new book traces the fascinating life story of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. In the first installment of a new poetry column, David Kaufmann explores the work of Philip Levine and Hank Lazer. Seth Lipsky memorializes Marek Edelman, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Jeremy Dauber unpacks the Jewishness of the new musical TV show Glee. And stay tuned as The Scroll rolls out updates all day.

J Street Conference Ends

Cheers for Frank, Kovner, Abdullah; then go off to lobby


Supporters of J Street, the left-leaning Israel lobby group that just wrapped up its first national conference, will exit the cozy confines of the Washington Grand Hyatt this morning and head over to Capitol Hill to, well, lobby. Policy director Hadar Susskind tells Tablet Magazine that the contingent has 210 meetings scheduled with various Congressional offices and expects the members of Congress themselves (not just their staffer) to show up at about half of those meetings.

But it’s worth noting that the J Street crowd has, this week, appeared wholly uninterested in the minutiae and insider baseball that animates the Hill. At last night’s big $250-a-plate gala dinner, the 800-plus attendees cheered when recognizable members of Congress in attendance were named—Barney Frank, Keith Ellison—but kept up their chatter as lesser pols were thanked. And few people in the room seemed to notice when speaker Steve Clemons—who directs the foreign-policy program at the New America Foundation, a progressive think tank—let slip that Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican who gave the evening’s keynote address, had been tapped to co-chair of President Barack Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board. (Though in fairness, they may not have been paying attention in part because Clemons walked onstage wearing a paper mask of Vice President Joe Biden’s face, in a Beltway Halloween joke that went over like a lead weight).

Attendees did, however, sit rapt as King Abdullah of Jordan congratulated their efforts via a video link. And the audience whooped and cheered later in the evening when one of J Street’s initial funders, New York attorney Victor Kovner, accepted the organization’s inaugural “Pursuer of Peace” award. Kovner, a longtime board member of Americans for Peace Now, was introduced with a video tribute that included photographs of Kovner standing with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (not both in the same photograph, though). In his acceptance, he invoked both the U.S. Constitution and the prophet Isaiah as he talked about making sure that the state of Israel lives up to Jewish values, rather than just being a state full of Jews. “What we American Jews owe to Israel, what we owe to our friends and family in Israel, is our best advice,” he said, to loud applause. And then he wound up with a finale worthy of Elie Wiesel, repeatedly intoning “never again” as he said that, thanks to J Street’s existence, members of Congress would be free of fear when taking positions in favor of Palestinian rights, and the president would have the room to maneuver in order to strike a peace deal. Now that the conference is over, of course, the big question facing the organization is this: what next?

Hagel to Lead Obama’s Intelligence Oversight Panel [The Cable]

Daybreak: Gazans to Sue IDF

Plus an Israeli in the NBA, Lebanese rockets, and more in the news


• Palestinians are preparing millions of dollars worth of civil lawsuits against the Israeli army for damages incurred during the Gaza War; says Ynet, “Legal expert Advocate Yaron Pastinger believes that Israel will argue that Israel was fighting on foreign territory that it has no legal responsibility for.” [Ynet]
• A Lebanese rocket that hit Israel yesterday (no one was hurt) was traced to the Houla region in Lebanon, where government troops discovered and dismantled four more rockets. [JPost]
• An 88-year-old former Nazi is on trial in Germany for the execution of three Dutch civilians. [AP]
• Basketball player Omri Casspi will play his first game with the Sacramento Kings today, officially becoming the first Israeli in the NBA. Some people are extremely excited, says the Associated Press: “The Knicks have already designated the Kings’ visit to New York in February as Jewish Heritage Night.” [AP]

Sundown: 15 Years of Jordan Peace

Plus a rabbi’s odd crime, Ivanka’s wedding tchotchkes, and more


• Yesterday, President Barack Obama celebrated the 15-year anniversary of peace between Israel and Jordan; Jordanians, on the other hand, seem to have lost the “spirit of cooperation” for which he praised their leader: protesters there “called for the treaty to be annulled, while newspapers across Jordan described the peace as ‘frigid.’” [JTA]
• The case of a London Jewish school that refused to admit a boy whose mother had a non-Orthodox conversion has gone to that country’s Supreme Court and raised questions of religion versus ethnicity that may affect other faith schools. [BBC]
• In a strange case reported by website Vos iz Neais, an Israeli journalist has accused the chief rabbi of Turkey of desecrating ancient cemeteries in Istanbul. Maybe he’s greedy for the souls of his heroes: “In some cases gravestones of halacha giants have vanished inexplicably,” says VIN. [VIN]
• Among the less-than-thrilling details of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s Jewish wedding, according to the New York Post: “Gifts for guests included a book in Hebrew and a pair of small white flip-flops with the tag: ‘Ivanka and Jared—what a pair.’” [NYP]
• Tablet Magazine columnist Etgar Keret will be talking to This American Life’s Ira Glass live at the New York Public Library tomorrow; it’s sure to be weird and insightful. [NYPL]

Obama Adviser to J Street: Peace Deal Should Be Priority

National security adviser says Israel-Palestine peace should be president’s top foreign-policy focus

Jones speaking to the J Street Conference today.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, delivered a keynote address on the final day of the J Street conference this afternoon. Jones, who drew cheers for saying he was “honored to represent” Obama at the left-leaning Israel lobby’s first convention, got the crowd to its feet by saying that he thought reaching a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians should be the president’s top foreign-policy priority, above all others. “The imperative for peace is now,” he went on, echoing a slogan repeated frequently here since Sunday.

Unfortunately for J Street, the blogosphere was alive with chatter about another issue altogether: the apparent desire among leaders of its student arm, J Street U, to shorten J Street’s ubiquitous “pro-peace, pro-Israel” slogan to just “pro-peace.” “We don’t want to isolate people because they don’t feel quite so comfortable with ‘pro-Israel,’ so we say ‘pro-peace,’” Lauren Barr, an American University junior and J Street intern who sits on J Street U’s board, told Jerusalem Post reporter Hilary Krieger. (On Sunday, at the opening session of the conference, Barr warned older people in the audience that people her age were being “driven away” from a vibrant relationship with Israel because of their doubts over the country’s handling of the Palestinian issue.) J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben Ami, told U.S. News and World Report’s religion blogger that he wanted to “honor” the questions some Jews have and didn’t seem to mind the change of mottos: “We can’t force them to use language that makes them uncomfortable.” But by this afternoon, J Street publicists were insisting that the original story was wrong, dismissing it as college students mouthing off, and referring reporters to a statement from J Street U director Tammy Shapiro, who reiterated the requirement that all work “be done in a context that always embraces the right of a state for Jewish people in the land of Israel to exist beside a state for Palestinian people in the land of Palestine.”

As it happens, Shapiro was also behind J Street’s decision to cancel a poetry session planned for the conference,after it emerged that some of the poets had made potentially offensive links between the Holocaust and Israel’s actions in Gaza. But, here’s the ironic part: the louder the bloggers gloat over every perceived stumble, the more enthusiastic, and righteous, the true believers at the Grand Hyatt seem to get. That’s politics, folks.

J Street’s Campus Branch Drops Pro-Israel Slogan [JPost]
J Street’s College Arm Drops ‘Pro-Israel’ From Its Slogan [USNews]
Top Obama Aide: U.S. Commitment to Israel is Not a Slogan [Haaretz]

Provocative Writer Wants to Run for German Jewish Post

Plans to de-outlaw Holocaust denial, among other things


Journalist, author, and provocateur Henryk M. Broder—who, says Haaretz, “has declared his favorite topics to be Jews, Arabs and Germans: an explosive mixture, indeed”—plans to run for president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany next May. While many nations have similar bodies, the German Council operates under uniquely weighty circumstances, and its default mission has become providing “reassuring comments on anti-Semitism, Nazism and racism.” But Broder is fed up with this “early warning system against political extremism,” he says. He has suggested Germany do away with its law against Holocaust denial, which he says has “served idiots to stage themselves as martyrs in the fight for historical truth.” Instead, he contends that Jews should content themselves knowing what really happened, and focus instead on activism for other victims of human rights abuses throughout the world.

Broder—whose 2006 book, Hurra, Wir Kapitulieren (Hurray! We’re Capitulating!), posited that the world is handing itself over to dangerous Islamist powers—even says he would focus on relations with those Muslim communities in Germany that “step in for strict separation of religion and state and a secular society.”

While Haaretz feels certain Broder has little chance of winning the presidency, he does have one slight demographic edge: at 63, he is closer to the increasing German Jewish population of Soviet immigrants and their children and than to “the Holocaust generation” that has held power in the community. And, at the very least, says the paper, his announcement has made a splash: “The council is outraged, the lay Jewish community amused and a new debate about German-Jewish relations has been sparked—just how Broder likes it.”

The German Shepherd: Is Germany Ready for a Provocative Jewish Leader? [Haaretz]

Knesset Moves Toward Civil Unions

Would provide marriage rights for non-Jewish Israelis


A bill being prepared in Israel’s Knesset would allow persons “without religion” to partner in civil unions, in contrast to the current requirement that all marriage in Israel be approved by religious authorities. The bill aims to address the situation of people such as many Russian immigrants or converts to Judaism who are not considered Jewish by the rabbis. But is this a real step away from ultra-Orthodox authority over the lives of Israelis? An editorial on the website of Hiddush, an Israeli religious rights organization, argues that the bill will actually create a caste of “lepers” who are only allowed to partner with each other. Presumably, those people could still wed outside the country, as has been the case for years, but having them split off as a category cements their second-class citizenship, Hiddush argues, and could “perpetuate ad infinitum their foreignness and difference from the rest of Israel’s residents whose Judaism the rabbinate recognizes.”

An op-ed in Ynet is a bit more optimistic, arguing that the bill is a step in the right direction though one that, because it only refers to those who can prove they are “without religion,” only applies to a small percentage of people who wish to wed in Israel. “Before the union is confirmed, the registrar will have to publish the details of the request and each religious court will have the opportunity to examine whether either member of the couple belongs to its community,” the op-ed points out, quoting another commentator. “If there is a dispute over the matter, the religious court will make the final decision…. So, does this mean that the Rabbinical Courts are now (also) determining ‘Who is NOT a Jew’?”

Civil Union Bill ‘Indecent Proposal’ [Hiddush]
An Important First Step [Ynet]
Previously: The Other Civil Union

Nazi Heir Offends Yad Vashem

Tries to sell museum grandfather Rudolph Hoess’s possessions

Hoess, in front row, second from left, on trial with other Nazi leaders at Nuremburg.(AFP/Getty Images)

While descendants of Holocaust victims the world over continue to seek retribution—and reparations—for stolen property, an heir of one of the genocide’s perpetrators is looking to make a buck off the idea of “never forgetting.” The grandson of Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoess offered some of his grandfather’s effects to Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem—for a price. “Quite a few organizations wanted to buy them from us, including well-known media such as Der Spiegel and the Axel Springer publishing company,” said Hoess the younger. “I thought that it would be appropriate to sell the items to Yad Vashem. I do not want these items to get into the wrong hands.” So maybe his heart was in the right place, but his seeming obliviousness to the symbolic significance of his “offer” and ignorance of protocol surrounding the atrocities is worrying. He seems never to even have considered donating the artifacts—when asked by The Philadelphia Bulletin about that possibility, he responded, “That is a good question. I can’t make a decision like that on my own. My tendency is to agree to donate the items, but I will need to consult the rest of the family. We want the items to go to a museum that deals with history.” At least that rules out this place.

Museum Receives Horrifying Offer From Nazi Relative [Bulletin]

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.