Pope emeritus Benedict XVI's relationship with Judaism

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During his pontificate, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI established a very close relationship with the Jewish community in Rome and the rest of the world. But this personal side of the Pope emeritus was sometimes misunderstood.

Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee

Some people are given the gift to be able to transmit their personality and Pope Benedict XVI had many gifts, but that was not one of them. So people thought he was aloof. Because he was shy, they thought he was cold. They thought because he was involved with Doctrine of the Faith, he was somehow rigid. But he wasn't like that as a person at all.

Rabbi David Rosen met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1987 and from there, a friendship grew. Rosen visited Ratzinger 12 times after he was elected Pope. He says the late Pope emeritus continued to foster the Church's relationship with Judaism that Pope John Paul II had planted.

Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee

He continued the path of John Paul II. To the best of my knowledge, he didn't do anything that was innovation. But that was his importance. He was a consolidator.

Rabbi Rosen highlights Pope Benedict XVI's visits to the synagogues in Rome, Auschwitz and Israel. He believes that this set a precedent for future papal trips. This is how German Pope Benedict XVI spoke when he visited Auschwitz in 2013.

To speak here in this place of horror, of accumulation of crimes against God and against man, which has no comparison in history, is almost impossible. And it's particularly difficult and overwhelming for a Christian, for a Pope coming from Germany.

Unlike Pope John Paul II who connected with the Jewish people because of his Polish origin and childhood friends, Pope Benedict XVI did it through Theology. This was evident in the speech he gave at the synagogue in Rome in 2010, which was full of references to Moses and the Torah. Rabbi Rosen says that though Pope Francis' visits were more publicized due to his personality, Pope Benedict's were of great intellectual depth.

Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee

Pope Benedict XVI's speech in the synagogue was far more significant in terms of content. But most people are not theologians and most people don't read the text. They come with some kind of energy and expereince. And the feeling with Pope Francis was, as he expressed it, it's a family reunion. And, if you ask me, Benedict XVI's approach theologically was far more systematic and profound.

Rabbi Rosen fondly remembers one of the meetings he had with the Pope emeritus, where he called Rosen to deepen his experience of Judaism.

Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee

One thing he said: 'You as a Jew must be loyal to Torah. That is your obbligation. And anything that is of religious significance for you must have some meaning for me.' I said to him, 'You know, for many people, the state of Israel has religious meaning.' He said: 'Yes, I know that and we must certainly see it as a testimony of God's fidelity to His promise, even if we can't see it in the same theological language.'

Rabbi Rosen says that this was the legacy of a wise Pope who, though he did not always attract the media, created a very meaingful relationship with the Jewish community.



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