The Rabbi and Pope Benedikt

As the Catholic world mourns the death of the former Pope Benedict I remind myself of the following story: 

A short time after my father Rabbi Pinchas ZT”L came to Munich, the Jewish Congregation made a reception for the general local community – to meet and greet the new Rabbi. Unbeknown to my father – the guests included also some politicians, as well as non-Jewish religious leaders. Amongst them -the Archbishop of Munich and Freising Joseph Ratzinger – who would later be known as Pope Benedict.

Rabbi Pinchas was not at all happy, as the reception was to take place in the main Synagoguein Reichenbach St. and he said: If the Archbishop will be wearing his large cross in the Shul, I will have to leave. The Bishop – who must have had sensitivity and tact, decided to hide his cross under his robe, so this potential “incident” was avoided. 

Now came the second potential issue. The Rabbi said that while he was happy to greet the mayor and other dignitaries, he was not going to mention the word “Archbishop” in the Holy Synagogue.  The President of the Congregation was very concerned about how detrimental this is going to be to the relationship with the German official authorities. As the Rabbi stood up to speak, he formally greeted all the politicians attending, before turning towards the Archbishop and welcoming „Dr Ratzinger, the colleague from the other faculty”. The bishop, who understood the sensitivity and appreciated the title, accepted it so much that in a later letter to the Rabbi – addressed him with the same title.

Sometime later, my father told me that they are still in touch and speak from time to time. I was surprised as my father was not generally inclined to be “connected” with political leaders – which in a broader sense Ratzinger was by that time. My father replied: “In fact, I also do not know why I was keeping this relationship alive. But a short while ago, an Israeli activist called me to complain that the German Catholic church is supporting missionary activities in Israel, whereby vulnerable people are being approached in order to convert them to Christianity”. 

My father arranged to meet with Dr Ratzinger and brought up the subject. Pope Benedict (then Archbishop) said: “Rabbi Biberfeld, you must know that unlike Judaism, we are commanded to try and convert as many people as we can, so this is for us what for you would be a ‘Mitzva’.  How can you ask me to refrain?” 

The Rabbi replied: “Yes. I’m aware of what you say. But perhaps you should consider that after the Shoah, in which 6 Million Jews were killed by Germans, You should take a ‘long break’ from this particular activity amongst Jewish people”. 

The Archbishop has responded by saying that he will instantly stop the financial support to the missionaries working in Israel.

Warm regards

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld