In a move that stunned the Jewish world and significant parts of the Catholic world as well, Pope Benedict XVI moved last week to revoke the excommunication of four bishops, one of whom, Richard Williamson, has denied the historicity of the Holocaust. The four are all members of the St. Pius X Society, a far-right wing schismatic group that argues generally against the modernization of the church, and more specifically against the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s.
Having experienced the almost palpable sense of exhilaration that was so much a part of the American presidential election just a few months ago, the near universal sense of frustration and despair that haunted voters after the electoral stalemate of the past week in Israel was a rude reminder of the fractured nature of Israel’s political system.
Among my friends and colleagues, I am occasionally chided for being a centrist. I am neither a leftist nor a partisan of the right, and I like to think that being open to the best thinking of all sides to an argument is the surest road to growth and wisdom.
On the way into Manhattan earlier this week to teach my seminar in the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary, I had my radio tuned to WCBS, an all-news station. The ride took about twenty-five minutes, and I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that the entire twenty-five minutes on the radio was taken up with bad news and worse news about the economy. The only thing that bordered on something other than that was a report about Bill Clinton, complaining that President Obama was too focused in his public pronouncements on how bad the economy is.
Although it is more than a little different now than it was almost thirty years ago when I was ordained, the basic requirement is the same. All graduating seniors in the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary are required to deliver what is called a “senior sermon,” when they either preach or teach in the presence of their faculty,
It’s no secret that great disasters bring out the best and the worst in people – the selfless rescuers who put their own lives on the line to save people they don’t know on one hand, the looters who use catastrophe as an opportunity for larceny, petty and otherwise, on the other.
In the weeks before my first son was born (yes, the one who just became a father last week), I wore a beeper on my belt, like all expectant fathers did when their wives were due any minute. It was before cell phones, and for those few days when we really needed to be reachable, the hospital would rent out beepers so that our wives could call us. I actually remember bringing a roll of quarters with me to the hospital, and sitting in my scrubs in a phone booth in the hospital lobby, calling family and friends to tell them the good news.
The disclosures last week about alleged abuse of civilians by Israeli troops during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza must give us pause. The allegations, if true, are serious. To be sure, the kind of casual disdain for human life- even of one’s enemy- that is reflected in the anecdotal evidence, even in the t-shirts that some soldiers were seen wearing, should cause alarm bells to ring in the IDF’s Central Command. And indeed it has.