The Zionist Conspiracy

A clandestine undertaking on behalf of Israel, the Jets and the Jews.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

There are exceptions, of course, but so many publications - Jewish and otherwise - are filled with gossip or monolithic agendas that it's refreshing to come across a publication by people of faith that takes ideas (but not necessarily itself) seriously.

Commonweal, a magazine by serious and thoughtful Catholics, is published twice a month. It offers a broad range of views on controversial social and political issues from the perspective of lay Catholics. Recent issues focused on how John Kerry's approach to his religion may affect the election; an argument that Catholics should support gay marriage - even as their theological views absolutely reject such unions as immoral; and, expectedly, debate about Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ.'

In a recent article about 'The Passion' that unfortunately is not available online, Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg wrote:

"Read literally, [the Gospels] are primary sources of hatred and ant-Semitism. In order to atone for past sins and to prevent future evil acts based on Gospel writings, the bishops and the leaders of other churches must confront the New Testament (via modern scholarship or theological critique) or stand convicted of continuing the evils of the rest." Greenberg also calls upon Christians to "reject the glorification of suffering," arguing: "[W]hat kind of love tortures oneself and one's beloved son out of love for another?"

That question, of course, applies as much to Abraham's readiness to accept God's command that he sacrifice Isaac as it does to Christian theology, and it's those types of questions that have made Greenberg quite controversial among observant Jews. One critical letter sounded like a response to a Greenberg call for acceptance of pluralism within Judaism: "If Greenberg wants Christians to become Jews, let him preach that message as much as he wishes. But it is absurd to demand that Christians censor the central documents of their faith." Change "Christians" to "the Orthodox" and "Jews" to "Reform" and, well, you get the idea.

Commonweal does not focus on particularly Jewish issues too often, but has offered an interesting perspective when it has. When Joe Lieberman was nominated as the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000, an editorial stated that Lieberman's religious "practice is impressive in seven-day-a-week America: he strictly observes the Sabbath; he prays in the prescribed manner, three times a day, and he and his wife follow Jewish dietary laws." I don't know if those words were motivated by a politically correct support for diversity, if they were completely sincere, or both. It would be good to know that non-Jews (and non-observant Jews) find Jewish observance to be "impressive," not for any self-gratification, but as a sign that we are making some small progress in our mission - as charged by Isaiah - "to be a light unto the nations."

Commonweal is, unfortunately, a grave disappointment when in comes to Israel. Articles by Jews about Israel are from those on the far-left who are critical of it; a 2002 editorial expressed the view that "Palestinians, it is fair to say, are not driven by anti-Semitic fantasies, but have an honest grievance against Israel"; in January 2000, Commonweal's senior writer offensively referred to Israel as "a wealthy and well-armed Goliath" against "a slingless [Palestinian] David"; a 2001 editorial complained about the Bush Administration's closing down a Hamas front, demanding that it also close funds that support Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (and even the Old City of Jerusalem) - essentially saying that a guy like me who thinks Jews have a right to live in the Gush Etzion towns near Bethlehem is no better than mass murderers; and another editorial said that Prime Minister Sharon "is a man of almost no political imagination. He is little more than a blunt instrument of retribution, a leader who seems incapable of compromise." These pieces were not balanced by pro-Israel ones; indeed, I could not find a single positive article about Israel. The (hopefully erroneous) message that is sent is that when it comes to Israel, Catholics are of one view, a negative one.

Fortunately, Commonweal has, for the most part, left Israel alone over the last two years to focus on some of the interesting topics mentioned above. It's a worthwhile read, and offers much to think about for all religious people striving to balance their beliefs and observances with contributing to a diverse, democratic and pluralistic America.