Chief Rabbi di Segni on the Jewish Catholic Encounter

Interviews with Chief Rabbi di Segni  from January 12, and 14.

In an interview with Reuters ahead of this Sunday’s visit, Rabbi Riccardo di Segni also said he hoped the event would help combat hostility towards the Jewish world and intolerance of any religion.

INTERVIEW – Only God can judge Pius XII on Jews – chief rabbi

By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – Only God can judge whether wartime Pope Pius XII did enough to save Jews and whether he should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust, the rabbi who will host Pope Benedict first visit to Rome’s synagogue said.

Di Segni was asked about a Vatican official who defended Pius — who became pope on the eve of World War Two — from accusations he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.

“I think that it can be morally dangerous and, religiously speaking, dangerous to say that the will of God is to be silent and not to say a word in front of the suffering of the people,” Di Segni said, speaking in English.

“So let us be careful and let us not (look for) a way of absolving people. I think only God may understand if people have done His will righteously, not us,” he said.”Religion now has a tremendous responsibility in bringing either war or peace to the world. So a signal of peace and friendship starting here from Rome could be very important,” he said.

“As Jews we want to say very strongly that any kind of hatred against difference, and not only against the Jews, has to be banned, has to be condemned,” he said.

Another Interview in Catholic News Service

Rome rabbi says pope’s visit shows commitment to dialogue
Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi, told Catholic News Service there is “a solid basis” for positive relations, but “with a storm every now and then.”

“Times have changed,” the rabbi said. “Many things have been achieved; other things still need to be done. The path, the Jewish-Catholic encounter, is terribly complicated. It is not a smooth road leading onward, but it is one continually filled with stumbling blocks. The visit of a pope to the synagogue should demonstrate that beyond the stumbling blocks there is a substantial desire to communicate with each other and resolve problems.”
As is often the case, he said, “it’s hardest to establish good relations with the person closest to you.”

Side point on Bnei Akiva

Bnei Akiva’s local representatives said they decided to participate after hesitation and followed the advice of Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, who said that the visit was a sign that Pope Benedict wanted to “continue the dialogue.” He advised Bnei Akiva that the pope should be “respected as a king.”

Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni (1949-) the current chief rabbi of Rome offers a unique take on the dialogue. He assumes that both sides accept exclusivism, so to go forward we have to affirm pluralism. Ever the gadfly, di Segni writes that the Jewish tradition follows the exclusivist and anti-Christian counter-gospel narrative of Toldot Yeshu,  on which he wrote his doctorate and then published as a book. For di Segni, Christians must recognize that the derogatory exclusivism Toldot Yeshu is the Jewish tradition, and this corresponds to the anti-Jewish narrative of traditional Christianity. He ponders that the Christian Trinity may actually be idolatry and violates the Noahite law that requires monotheism. If Christians violate this law, according to deSegni, they will not find salvation and are, furthermore, deserving of death in this world.

Noahite laws may be incumbent on gentiles as a form of general revelation but, Segni asks, if we took that seriously then wouldn’t we would have to be missionizing for these laws? So too, Christians if they should take their own faith seriously, should advocate missionizing.  Rabbi de Segni proposes therefore that both sides call a moratorium on truth claims and missionizing. It is not that either side should actually give up their truth claims, or their exclusivism, or to stop hoping for the conversion of the other, but simply a practical moratorium, a practical pluralism.

The real problem is not so much the Church’s conviction of the necessity for the Jews to be saved by means of Jesus. The real issue is what is done with that conviction. If we were to apply the system of Noahide laws to the latter, we would have to do everything possible in order that the Noahides observe them—including the law dealing with the prohibition against worship of other gods. Each person would have to become a missionary of the pure faith…

On the Jewish side, this movement would have to be matched by an affirmation of the principle that faith in Jesus (understood: on the part of Christians, not Jews ) is not incompatible with the worship of the one and only God. This is a principle which has been accepted in authoritative traditions within Judaism, but which would have to become more prevalent and accepted by the majority. From this would have to follow, on the part of Jews, a greater understanding of Christian Spirituality.

Moses Maimonides, in the rules he gives for kings in his treatise (Chapter 11), after having denounced the invalidity of faith in Jesus, nevertheless formulated an interpretation of the providential significance of the spread of Christianity, “to prepare the road for the king-Messiah, and to help the whole world become accustomed to serving God together, as it is said, ‘At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord’” (Zeph. 3:9).

Perhaps the parallel suggests the solution, which cannot be immediate but eschatological. Each of us has the right to hope that the other will acknowledge that there is true faith in us, but we allow for that to unfold over a long period, which is beyond our control.

Read full version here

Rabbi De Segni argues that we keep our particular truth claims but suspend acting on them until the end time. Since we have no common ground for discussion if we put our truth claims first, let us avoid the question and deal with ethics and practical matters.He frames questions as an exclusivist and then answers as a pluralist. Unlike other thinkers, De Segni values diversity over dignity, he emphasizes religious exclusivism and prejudice and then calls for charity.

Rabbi de Segni does work toward theological charity by building on Rabbi Yaakov Emden’s acceptance of Jesus as a great teacher who did not want to harm Judaism, and therefore legitimate for the gentiles since

In the end what counts is human responsibility. In the human realm, both faiths are called by God to work in the world.

As he left the ark, Noah received the assurance that humanity would never again be entirely destroyed by God. Now, however this risk still exists—not destruction by a divine hand, but by a human hand with no guarantees other than our own responsibility, which we (especially as religious) cannot escape. Commitments and facts must come before forms and ceremonies. This is the authentic message of the prophets, which we recognize as a common source, and the comfort promised by the divine mercy will recall once more the waters of Noah, no longer as a sign of destruction, but as a sign of protections. As the prophet Isaiah says (54:9): “This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you.”

di Segni sates that there is no need for Jews to change their current prayer because they have already been censored, but he claims that they were self-censored.

Jewish prayers have already been self-censored, centuries ago,” Di Segni informed the prelate in a communiqué. “What has been brought to our attention once more is a history of polemics which goes back thousands of years, concerning which some clarifications are in order. Anyone can hear for themselves the prayers which Jews recite today, and they can easily be verified, even in translation,” Di Segni emphasized. “The essential fact,” he added, “is that today no reference to Christians exists in our prayers, which, among other things, have been the object of repeated interventions of censoring and self-censoring. The Hebrew texts were changed centuries ago.
full version here

Di Segni thinks that dialogue is important but he does not think that Judaism can change through dialogue. “There has been notable theological progress in Christian theology’s view of Judaism” However, “reciprocity at the theological level does not exist,” the rabbi said. “Among politicians there can be discussions that lead to a solution, not so among theologians.” “Christianity is born from Judaism and, with notable efforts, can introduce elements of Jewish spirituality,” he said. “The contrary is not possible.”

Side Point: Rabbi David Rosen in Haaratz on the poor behavior of Jews toward the Vatican.

Israel’s behavior toward the Vatican over the past 15 years has been “outrageous,” one of the figures behind the 1994 establishment of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Vatican City told Haaretz last week. “Any [other] country would have threatened to withdraw its ambassador long ago over Israel’s failure to honor agreements,” Rabbi David Rosen said.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill · All Rights Reserved

3 responses to “Chief Rabbi di Segni on the Jewish Catholic Encounter

  1. Very interesting. I have met R’Di Seigni several times, and am pleased to find out more about his thought. I find myself right at home, having been saying some of the same things, though more gently, and have discovered that people like the idea of not chucking out exclusivist claims, but either setting them aside or having each faith that wants to be part of public discourse argue from within why it can work hand in hand – and under what circumstances – with unbelievers. I took that latter idea from R’ Jonathan Sacks’ Dignity of Difference, though I think in the second half of that book he veered from those ideas towards a more principled pluralism. Unfortunately, his dissertation is in Italian, so I can’t read that.

    I feel that Di Seigni is building on some ideas R’Soloveitchik stated in Confrontation, but has done so by being more explicitly theological and historical in a way that R’ Soloveitchik may have intentionally wanted to stay away from in that paper. What do you think?

  2. Dont contort di Segni into the Procrustean bed of YU terms. He is neither reading, referring, nor developing any ideas of Rabbi Soloveitchik. In addition, Rabbi di Segni certainly believes we can dialogue and understand one another.

  3. I think we have found the nafka minah of using someone like Gadamer to describe Halakha (per earlier Sagi discussion). Even when the explicit text says we can not understand the other because of ontological difference, or because the other is almost demonic, dialog is still happening. This is coming close to the “performative contradiction” of Habermas vis a vis his opponents; if you debate him, he wins, cause he said its all about debate.

    Still I think Di Segni is different, more like mechirat chametz. No, we cannot understand each other at all. But we can “provisionally” act as if we do, and tally up the differences after dialog (or Passover).

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