This Friday, the Pope is scheduled to meet with a group of Jewish leaders in New York. They’re expected to express to him, among other things, their concern about a recently reinstated Good Friday prayer that calls for the conversion of the Jews. The Latin prayer had been put aside back in the enlightened ’70s (the 1970s I mean), but the tradition-minded Pope decided to revive it last year, in somewhat modified form. (It used to refer to the Jews as “faithless”--or “perfidious,” depending on your translation--but he took that part out.)
Now, I never like to deprive my fellow tribespeople of a good opportunity to complain, but in this case I’m not sure we’re in great standing.
On Saturday night, after meeting with the Pope, we’ll be having a Passover seder. Its liturgy includes the following less-than-charitable passage (taken mostly from Psalms) calling on the Almighty “to wreak vengeance on the gentiles,” according to my commentary on the Passover Haggadah from the Jewish Publication Society:
Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name…Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens.
Which frankly sounds a lot worse than this:
Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may enlighten their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all men.
Now in fairness, many modern Jews have abandoned the passage quoted above in favor of a much more benign entreaty: “Pour out Your love on the nations that have known you…” But the most traditional Jews, the ones comparable to Latin-loving Catholics, certainly haven’t.
Of course, there’s another critical difference: Historically the Jews have had a hell of a lot more reason to worry about being forcibly converted (or much worse) by Christians, than Christians have had reason to worry about wrathful vengeance from the Jews (except, perhaps, in the form of withering satire). So it’s obviously a more sensitive issue in one direction than the other.
Still, when it comes to age-old texts and modern sensitivities, I’m not sure we Jews are necessarily a beacon to the world. And frankly I’d be insulted if the Pope didn’t want to convert me. What am I, chopped liver?