April 18th, 2008
12:24 PM ET

A Rabbi on the Pope's olive branch

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/18/book.292.320.rabbi.jpg caption="Sherre Hirsch is the author of We Plan, God Laughs" width=292 height=320]

Editor's note: Sherre Hirsch was a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles for eight years and is the Spiritual Life Consultant and a speaker for Canyon Ranch. She appeared regularly on Noami Judd’s New Morning. She has been featured on Today, Tyra, and PBS’s Thirty Good Minutes and is also a contributor to Momlogic.com. Hirsch lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch

This Saturday night begins the holiday of Passover, the most widely observed holiday in the Jewish religion. Jews around the world will “open the door” metaphorically for Elijah, symbolically to herald the coming peace. During his first papal visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI has made it a point to be at a synagogue in New York City during Passover. By going out of his way to meet a rabbi in a synagogue, the Pope is opening the door to a dialogue, and taking a step forward to remove barriers and promote understanding. This is certainly better than a step back or not having the courage to take a step at all.

It brings to mind the words of Abraham Isaac Kook, a prominent 20th century religious thinker and the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, who spoke of the unity we can find despite our many different points of view, beliefs, and cultures.

Rav Kook said,
“It is precisely the multiplicity of opinions that derive from different souls and backgrounds which enriches wisdom.” Even though historically we came from very disparate beginnings, there is a place for various souls to enrich each other through their wisdom, and peace can come about even with the multiplicity of our opinions. In an age of fanaticism and tumult, it is restorative to have and acknowledge a positive religious role model, a deeply observant believer who is a man of peace.

Since it has been so long since a pontiff has come to the States, I think his presence also restarts a dialogue about faith and spirituality in the larger world. Many struggle and want to talk about issues surrounding their beliefs, yet find it a difficult subject to approach, even with their friends. We rarely hear chats about religion around the water cooler. With his days in New York and Washington, D.C., the Pope becomes the water cooler conversation. It places religion, faith, and spirituality into the everyday dialogue, and enables people to have a meaningful exchange of impressions and ideas. Religion is no longer only a private, internal contemplation. “Did you hear what the Pope said,” is a short step from “I’ve always believed…” In a day, he’s given voice to religion and a positive way to discuss faith, spirituality, and belief.

For many people, the Pope is the embodiment of God. While I don’t believe that, as a Jew, his presence does remind us that there is god in all of us. Pope Benedict’s visit speaks to the possibility of faith within each of us. Again, it allows us to bring religion into the modern dialogue, and accept pluralism—the concept that people with conflicting beliefs can live in peace, respect, and harmony with each other.

Filed under: Pope Benedict
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    Looking back over the history of the world at all the persecutions done in the name of religion it is remarkable that we have reached a point where it is possible for all of us despite our differences in religious beliefs to live in harmony with each other. The significance of that possibility is tremendous. We can all learn from one another so diversity in religion is just as important as diversity in culture and can enrich our lives if we open ourselves to it.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 18, 2008 at 5:32 pm |
  2. Linda

    An excellent article, until she starts into mis-stating Catholic teaching.

    "For many people, the Pope is the embodiment of God"? What people think this? That would be idolotry! The roman emperors believed they each were a god (little g). Not Catholics! Did she run into someone who personally believed it – and is implying, or inferring that this is what is authentically and authoritativly taught?

    Catholics – All Christians for that matter – believe that Jesus is the "embodiment" of God – but even that is a bad definition. Catholics believe that the Pope is the Vicar – Representative – of Christ. Not the physical form of God! (Simple explaination for those who can't comprehent: While a man can't become God; God, being a supreme being and creator, can do whatever and be whatever, and appear as whomever and whatever suits His fancy! )

    Please don't mistake honoring a person for believing them to be God. If I were to visit the author's synagogue, I would pay her honor, maybe even consider her to be close to God – and possibly a representative of God to me. Otherwise, at best, I'd be considered disrespectful. I certainly wouldn't consider her – or anyone else – the embodiment of anyone or anything. Except maybe of herself.

    If the author really means to say "my brand of Judiasm is a) the only truth or b) one of x number of truths or c) Christianity and/or Catholic Christianity is just a big lie, so this guy is the head liar" – then say it. But don't bear false witness about what Catholics or Christians believe – especially when what the church teaches is so readily available to anyone who bothers to look!

    April 18, 2008 at 2:48 pm |

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