The Times had a hard-hitting Leader on Friday, entitled Papal Fallibility:
followed during the weekend by the Catholic Tablet:
The subject was the wisdom or otherwise of the Pope in remitting the excommunication of four Lefebvrist clergy, including one who is a Holocaust denier, and - apparently (according to The Tablet) - a friend of David Irving, to boot.
The effect of this decision has actually been to increase the close ties between Catholics and Jews in this country, and it was delightful to welcome two more Catholic priests (from the Franciscan Order) to our fortnightly theological dialogue group, held in my home in North Manchester.
The subject on Sunday was 'Justice'. And despite the weather, people travelled from as far away as Rawtenstal to attend:
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his highly respected work, Halakhic Man:
has this to say about justice:
When a person actualizes the ideal Halakhah in the very midst of the real world, he approaches the level of that godly man, the prophet- the creator of worlds....He takes up his stand in the midst of the concrete world, his feet planted firmly on the ground of reality, and he looks about and sees, listens and hears, and publicly protests against the oppression of the helpless, the defrauding of the poor, the plight of the orphan. The rich are deemed as naught in his view.... Neither ritual decisions nor political leadership constitutes the main task of of halakhic man...."He who shames his fellow man in public has no share in the world to come" [Pirkei Avot 3:15; Bva Metzia 59a]. If a person sinned against his fellow man, repentance and the Day of Atonement cannot grant him atonement until he has appeased his fellow [Yoma 8:5; Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 7:9]
I was reminded of this when I attended a weekly shiur which is based on the Psalms. The speaker, basing herself on Psalm 127
asked why the Temple had been destroyed. The answer was that the great King Solomon (who built it) had committed errors of judgement when choosing one of his wives. But surely, the great King Solomon, whose wisdom was renowned, could not himself have made such a grave mistake?
'But, unlike the Catholic Church. we have no concept of infallibility', stated the speaker. 'All men are mortal - and the greater the man, the more is expected of him.'
But when I was in Israel, I attended an interfaith group in Jerusalem, in which one of the topics had been infallibility. And at that group a leading Catholic theologian had explained that the concept of Papal 'infallibility' is misunderstood and has only a very technical and circumscribed significance.
And at that, a distinguished Jewish scholar got up and said that the closest we have to infallibility in Judaism is the way that the haredim consider themselves.
At which I got up and said that I hadn't met that many haredim in Israel, but that those in Britain who I had met, including the very many in Manchester, certainly did not consider themselves infallible and were often the most sympathetic and humane of people!
And I was reminded of this again today, when the same speaker, who had spoken last week on the subject of King Solomon and his vulnerable fallibility, continued with the subject of true meditation. Basing herself, this time, on Psalm 128
she asked what a true 'fearer of the Lord' is. The answer was that true meditation in Judaism is when every minute of the day is spent doing the right thing with the right intention; dealing with stresses and strains in a mature and considered way, but not trying to avoid them by solo contemplation, the goal of which is to avoid or 'transcend' life.
A good example she gave was the true story of a mother who had just prepared umpteen boiled eggs for the Pesach Seder. However, at the last minute, when her guests were about to arrive, she found that her toddler had cracked every one of the eggs and, for good measure, had also poured cocoa poweder over each one.
To return to Rabbi Soloveitchik, he talks about 'the man in the sanctuary' and 'the man in the marketplace', or the compartmentalisation of life. This type of behaviour is anathema to Judaism. Rabbi Soloveitchick explains:
We have here a manifestation of a deep fissure in one's psychic identity. The Halakhah, however, rejects such a personality split, such a spiritual schizophrenia. It does not differentiate between the man who stands in his house of worship, engaged in ritual activities, and the mortal who must wage the arduous battle of life.... According to the outlook of Halakhah, the service of God can be carried out only through the implementation, the actualization of tis principles in the real world.... The Halakhah ... penetrates into every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the street, the factory, the house, the meeting place, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop for the religious life.'
So whether the Pope is infallible or not, he could do worse than to ponder these ideas and to read the works of Rabbi Soloveitchik. Maybe even he could learn a thing or two from them.