Catholics Have a Right To Pray for Us

Opinion

By Jacob Neusner

Published February 28, 2008, issue of March 07, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Israel prays for gentiles, so the other monotheists, the Catholic Church included, have the right to do the same — and no one should feel offended, as many have by Pope Benedict XVI’s recent revision of the Tridentine Mass.

Any other policy toward gentiles would deny their access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah. And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship.

God’s kingdom opens its gates to all humanity and when at worship, the Israelites ask for the speedy advent of God’s kingdom. They express the same liberality of spirit that characterizes the pope’s text for the prayer for the Jews on Good Friday.

Let me explain. I derive evidence of the theology of Judaism toward gentiles from the standard liturgy of the synagogue. I draw the text from “The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire,” published in London in 1953, which sets forth an English translation of a prayer for the conversion of gentiles that concludes public worship three times a day every day through the year.

The text is uniform in the worship of Judaism. In it Israel — the holy people, not to be confused with the State of Israel — thanks God for not making the holy people like the other nations. In worship, holy Israel asks that the world be perfected when all mankind calls upon God’s name and knows that to God, every knee must bow.

The text of the prayer reads, “It is our duty to praise the Lord of all things.” It offers thanks to God for giving Israel its own “portion,” its own destiny and lot in life, and making it different from the other nations of the world. God is asked to remove “the abominations from the earth” when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty.

This prayer for the conversion of “all the wicked of the earth,” who are “all the inhabitants of the world,” is recited in normative Judaism not once a year, but every day.

Normative Judaism, it can reasonably be argued, asks God to enlighten the nations and bring them into his kingdom. As if to underscore this aspiration, the prayer “It is our duty” is followed by the Kaddish: “May he establish his kingdom during your life and during your days and during the life of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time.” I do not see how in spirit or in intent these prayers differ from the Tridentine Mass.

These passages from the standard, daily liturgy of normative Judaism leave no doubt that when holy Israel assembles for worship, it asks God to illuminate gentiles’ hearts. The eschatological vision finds nourishment in the prophets and their vision of a single, united humanity, and in a liberal spirit encompassing all humanity.

The condemnation of idolatry does not afford much comfort to Christianity or Islam, which are passed by in silence. The prayers beseech God to hasten the coming of his kingdom.

These normative Jewish prayers form the counterpart to the Catholic one that asks for the salvation of all Israel “in the fullness of time, when all mankind enters the Church.”

The proselytizing prayers of Judaism and Christianity share an eschatological focus and mean to keep the door to salvation open for all peoples. Holy Israel should object to the Catholic prayer no more than Christianity and Islam should take umbrage at the Israelite one. Both “It is our duty” and “Let us also pray for the Jews” realize the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope.

Jacob Neusner, a professor of the history and theology of Judaism at Bard College, is the author of “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus” (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.