Johann Reuchlin on the 500th Anniversary of His Death

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522)

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522)

The advancement of knowledge in any discipline involves both intensive research by individuals and collaboration among scholars across languages and cultures. In past centuries European scholars used Latin as the common language for exchange.

Serious efforts were made to build on the legacy of ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible in Greek and Latin. The translation of Aristotle’s works and Arabic commentaries brought new challenges to revitalize the search for knowledge. Sometimes these endeavors developed in a spirit of collaboration and with a search for justice on behalf of a minority.

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522) was educated in the Latin of the Middle Ages, but he learned Hebrew to share areas of Jewish scholarship and practice with people of good will and intellectual curiosity. After meeting Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 -1494) in Florence in 1490, Reuchlin became interested in Kabbalah. His purpose included the elucidation of Jewish mystical traditions for the benefit of Christian theology and piety.

The great contribution of Reuchlin was not only to tap Jewish sources, but also to defend the rights of Jews (grounded in Roman law beginning with the privileges granted long ago by Julius Caesar) and to respect the Jewish literary heritage.

After the invention of the printing press, the ancient practice of burning books was less destructive of a heritage but has continued into modern times as an act of rejection regarding the value of another culture. At great personal cost, Reuchlin defended the Jewish texts that others tried to defile. His “Expert Opinion concerning the Destruction of Jewish Books” opposed confiscation of Jewish liturgical and theological books. Jews were to be treated kindly to fulfill the command to love our neighbor.

Tragically that teaching of the Torah (Lev 19:18) and Jesus was ignored in many Christian settings! The witness of scholars today can be enhanced by recalling those who struggled against bigotry in their time.

See my review of Franz Posset, Johann Reuchlin (1465- 1522): A Theological Biography in SCJR 13 no. 1 (2018) p. 1-3.

Anatomy and Medicine in the Nazi Period

A doctor examining a child in the ghetto clinic in Bedzin, Poland, with a nurse at his side wearing the Jewish badge.

The Graduate Program in Jewish-Christian Studies (JCST) is offering an online Teachers Study Day, Anatomy and Medicine in the Nazi Period, on Microsoft Teams, from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., on Monday, April 25, 2022. We invite educators and other interested individuals to attend the program, which is free.

Sabine Hildebrandt, MD is our guest speaker. She is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Harvard University. Her publications include The Anatomy of Murder: Ethical Transgression and Anatomical Science during the Third Reich and a biography of Jewish refugee physician Käthe Beutler.

Dr. Hildebrandt is co-editor of Recognizing the Past in the Present: Medicine before, during and after the Holocaust. She is also a member of the American Association for Anatomy Task Forces on Legacy Collections and the one on Structural Racism.

On April 25, Dr. Hildebrandt will present two workshops:

  • “Introduction to the History of Medicine, Nazism and the Holocaust”
    (from 9:15 a.m. to 10:40 a.m.); and
  • “From Routine to Murder – Anatomy in Nazi Germany and Its Legacies for Today” (from 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.)

This study day was developed for New Jersey teachers of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. It offers three Professional Development/Continuing Education Credit hours for educators. However, the study day is open to all those interested in the study of the Holocaust and Genocide.

To register, contact me via email at lawrence.frizzell@shu.edu. I will reply with information about joining the Microsoft Teams program after you register.

I hope you will join us on April 25th!

Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Cardinal Gregory

His Eminence, Wilton Cardinal Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., gave a lecture about the future of Jewish-Christian dialogue on Zoom to an international virtual gathering of 500 or more participants on March 31, 2022.

Cardinal Gregory has a long experience as the co-chair of the United States Bishops Conference-National Council of Synagogues dialogue. He reviewed key points in the Church’s development of the principles of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate) over the past 55 years.

Cardinal Gregory also pointed to the development of mutual understanding and the challenges we still face, including a concerted response to expressions of anti-Jewish bigotry in violent forms. As Catholic leaders continue the efforts to educate the faithful, they also pledge that a strong stand against antisemitism in any form is required of Christians.

Regarding the future, Cardinal Gregory touched on three areas:

  • widening the exchanges between Catholics and Jews on the local level
  • joint outreach whereby Catholics and Jews serve the needs of the wider world
  • reaching the younger generation of both communities

Rabbi Burton Visotzky, professor and interfaith coordinator in Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), moderated the program and presented questions for the speaker. The John Paul II Center sponsored the event, an annual lecture in Rome, with financial support from the Russell Berrie Foundation.

JTS recorded the event, which you can watch below, or you can select to watch it directly on JTS’s YouTube channel.

The World Day of the Sick

Emmanuel Levinas

On February 11th, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Church remembers those who are sick and suffering throughout the world. Again this year we think of the common threat of Covid-19 on the vulnerable in every society!

The message of Pope Francis to prepare for this day of prayer for the sick was given on December 10, 2021 and may be accessed on the Vatican’s website here.

I recommend that we consider the challenge of this text to all groups of people, from health care workers to ordinary members in every society.

There is much to ponder in the Pope’s message, including a quotation from the writings of Emmanuel Levinas, the Jewish philosopher whose ethical reflections resonate deeply with those searching to understand the impact of God’s Word on our lives.

Over the centuries the healing ministry of service to those who suffer in body or spirit has been noted by Pope Francis.  As in his focus over the years, he draws attention to ongoing needs of so many throughout the world, especially the poor in remote places.

May we be inspired to reach out to those in need! When our turn comes, may we show appreciation to all who help!

U.N. Resolution Adopted on 80th Anniversary of the Wannsee Conference

The 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference was commemorated last week.The 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference was commemorated last week. The event was presented in this way by Diane Cole in her review of Peter Longerich’s book Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution (Oxford University Press, 2022):

A single meeting can distill the essence of evil. Eighty years ago, on Jan. 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SS intelligence service and security police, presided over a high-level meeting with 14 Nazi colleagues at the elegant Wannsee villa near Berlin. The agenda: to discuss “the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe.” (The Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2022)

In 1933 the Nazi attack on the Jewish people in Germany began with legislation and demonstrations of hatred. These were intensified on both levels in the coming years. From 1938 I applied immediately the laws discriminating against Jews to all the countries taken into the Reich. After the War began in 1939, the killing of Jewish civilians was an integral part of conquest, but Reinhard Heydrich brought the nightmare of the ghettos into the horror of the death camps in the Wannsee Conference.

The New York Times has a report on the Wannsee Conference by Katrin Bennhold, “80 Years Ago the Nazis Planned the ‘Final Solution.’ It Took 90 Minutes.” There is also an account of the United Nations’ condemnation of denial and distortion of the Holocaust, “the Nazi genocide that killed nearly six million Jews and millions of others” (Rick Gladstone, “U.N. Approves Israeli Measure to Condemn Denial of the Holocaust”).

The resolution reaffirms that the Holocaust “will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.”

Anti-Jewish bigotry, usually called “antisemitism,” is a Protean monster that takes many shapes and forms. The strange visitor to the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on January 14th came with a perception, which shows that any mistaken view about Jews and Judaism may lead to devastating results. Mercifully, in this case, there was no loss of innocent lives but such an international incident is extremely worrying! Dr. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University in Atlanta offers a very pertinent reflection, “For Jews, Going to Services Is an Act of Courage,” in The New York Times.

The history of the Shoah (Holocaust) is studied at Seton Hall and other universities so that people of good will have ways of educating our peers and of guiding the younger generation to wholesome attitudes and to deeds in the service of positive interfaith and intercultural relations.

Each year on January 27th the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is commemorated by the United Nations as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. May this year’s commemoration be an occasion to express gratitude for the U.N. resolution enacted on January 20, 2022.

English Hymns in the Divine Office

The long tradition of common prayer in the monasteries of western Europe is based on the recitation of the 150 psalms at precise times of the day over the course of the week. The times for morning and early evening prayer drew upon the Jewish tradition for people to unite their intentions with the times when sacrifices were offered in the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed, this Jewish use of psalms and other prayers each day became “the sacrifice of the lips.” In this way the Pharisee tradition continued the practice of linking the time of prayer to the time of the Temple service.

In the Church the reference in Psalm 119:164 (“Seven times a day I praise you because your edicts are just”) became the ideal for the monks to decide the number of the “hours,” i.e., the times for daily prayer, in addition to the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

Over the centuries the Church of the Roman rite introduced Latin hymns to introduce each of the “Hours.” After the Second Vatican Council the Hours may be celebrated in the vernacular language. Some hymns have been translated into English but a wide selection of more modern hymns in English allow for choices on the part of each community.

The Rev. Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) was a British Methodist minister who wrote many hymns. The one I’ve chosen is assigned to Vespers or Evening Prayer in the Catholic Divine Office but it would be appropriate for morning as well. Here are three stanzas of this prayer:

For the fruits of his creation,
Thanks be to God;
For the gifts of every nation,
Thanks be to God;
For the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while men are sleeping,
Future needs in earth’s safekeeping,
Thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labor,
God’s will be done;
In the help we give our neighbor,
God’s will is done;
In our world-wise task of caring
For the hungry and despairing,
In the harvests men are sharing,
God’s will is done.

For the harvests of his spirit,
Thanks be to God;
For the good all men inherit,
Thanks be to God;
For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all, that love has found us,
Thanks be to God.

Human industry and ingenuity have enhanced the productivity of God’s creation, a responsibility in the human vocation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). Farmers use the machines of several inventors to increase the produce of areas that are cultivated. The phrase “Silent growth while men are sleeping” points to the parable of Mark 4:26-29:

26 And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28 The soil produces crops by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 And when the grain is ripe, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (New American Bible)

A century ago, scientists developed a type of wheat that could come to harvest within three months, the short growing season in western Canada. Rotation of crops has led to increased and varied productivity. For these contributions of human ingenuity we are grateful!  Are the products of the fields reaching those who are hungry? The work of farmers must be channeled to places of great need.

Gratitude to God in the first stanza is balanced by the emphasis on human labor in the second. Workers in the field or vineyard deserve a living wage. Justice for the worker is an expression of God’s will, already emphasized in the Torah, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Farmers realize the importance of good relations with their neighbors. An old farmer once told me of a situation of misunderstanding with his neighbor that had perdured for some time. While he was away a fire in his barn was extinguished by the neighbor. In gratitude, he overcame the problem that had caused tension. “We can choose our friends from afar but we must cultivate a true friendship with our neighbors.”

The poet’s focus moves to the human needs in far-off places – these involve the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy: “the hungry and despairing.” There are but one example in each category.

Lists of Jewish Sources

  1. Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
  2. Clothe the naked
  3. Visit the sick
  4. Bury the dead and comfort the mourners
  5. Redeem the captive
  6. Educate the orphan and shelter the homeless
  7. Provide dowries for poor maidens

Spiritual works of mercy complement the list of “corporal works” given in Matthew 25:31-46

  1. Instruct the ignorant
  2. Counsel the doubtful
  3. Admonish sinners (see Matthew 18:15)
  4. Bear wrongs patiently (see Matthew 6:14)
  5. Forgive offenses
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead.

Share the abundance of the harvest with those who are less fortunate. Laws of Deut 15:7-11 exemplify care for the poor which offer guidance for modern communities.

The final stanza of Pratt Green’s poem draws attention to the benefits of the spiritual order.

“The good that all men inherit”-  private property is a right limited by the call to advance the common good, which should be a heritage shared by all.

Wonder is an act of appreciation for the beautiful surprises of life. “The wonders that astound us” provoke a sense of awe on the part of creatures living in the presence of God.

“The truths that still confound us” – we examine our conscience with regard to limitations that we in a society place on relationships, beginning with God and embracing neighbor as an equal to self and extending to the natural world at large.

“Love has found us” – the love of God transforms our lives even before we begin to realize the multitude of gifts that are signs of God’s loving presence.

Another hymn taken into the Divine Office that celebrates the human response to divine blessings is by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), a Nonconformist hymnwriter who was the pastor of the Independent Congregation, Mark Lane in London from 1702-1712.  Frail health dogged him for many years, but he produced texts that resonate well, even today for people with a poetic sense.

I sing the mighty power of God,
that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command,
and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word,
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread,
or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below,
but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be,
Thou, God art present there.

The Watchman

Watch Tower on The Watchman post

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me.” (Ezekiel  3:17)

Each summer we see, with heartbreaking photos, the coverage of wildfires in the western states. A while ago someone remarked that there were no such fires in western Canada. “Not so,” said I, “they are widespread but are seldom reported here.” Recently reports have come from southern Europe, Turkey and Australia, showing that the danger is widespread.

Fear of such fires should lead to prevention of accidents on campsites and other human causes. The incredible accusation of arson is made from time-to-time. May anyone with such a temptation find and accept counselling!

When I was seven my family moved to a town in a mountain valley of north-east central British Columbia (B.C.), near the headwaters of the Fraser River. The lumber industry was the main source of employment. Trees provided livelihood in return for hard work. Every winter logs were hauled onto the river for a journey south after the ice broke. Trucks crossed the river on sawdust “roads.”  Danger lurked for the driver of a vehicle that plunged as the ice broke.

One of the mountains, seven miles from the town, was called “Lookout Mountain.”  The only telephone in the town was to the dwelling of the watchman who spent the summer months scanning the skies for any sign of a fire. His was a lonely life of dedicated vigilance. Was this appreciated or taken for granted? As a child I cannot remember, but I hope that people expressed their gratitude!

In 1945 we heard a story that, from the Aleutian Islands, then occupied by Japan, thousands of small glass prisms were sent on miniature parachutes to the B.C. forests. This hope for wanton destruction could not be reversed when the war ended.  Such acts posed less of a problem than landmines but the intention was malevolent and should be prohibited as unethical in any society. Such a warfare on trees is forbidden in the Law of Moses. Deuteronomy 20:19-20 begins with a prohibition against warriors cutting down trees but then concedes that building siegeworks requires use of this resource. The specific command is “Do not cut down the fruit trees!”

The image of a watchman guarding against natural disaster or the attack of enemies is applied to the spiritual and moral order in the prophet Ezekiel. A priest from birth, the young man, taken into exile in Babylon area in 597 B.C., was called to be a prophet in 593 (Ez 3:16-21, 33:1-9). The image selected to depict the serious nature of the call is the teacher giving warning to those going astray. Whether they heed or avoid the admonition, the person called to teach cannot ignore the challenge because God’s full message must be proclaimed.

In the context of forest fires today we hear of responsible leaders warning a community of imminent danger. Some refuse to leave, hoping for a change of wind or a drenching rainfall. The refusal to cooperate may be life-threatening. In the various situations of life in a community, may all, young and old, heed the teacher’s exhortation or admonition!

World Day of the Poor

This special day of prayer and action was instituted by Pope Francis at the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, celebrated in 2015. On June 13, 2021 Pope Francis presented a message, “The Poor you will always have with you,” as a preparation for this coming November 14, the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, as World Day of the Poor.

The Gospel text quoted as the title of the papal message is Mark 14:7. The account in Mark 14:3-9 is the basis for a reflection on the woman who anointed Jesus’ head with a special perfumed oil. After she was criticized sharply for the extravagant gesture, Jesus defended her because she anticipated his death whereby his poverty was made evident. “That nameless woman, meant perhaps to represent all those women who down through the centuries would be silenced and suffer violence, thus became the first of those women who were significantly present at the supreme moment of Christ’s life: his death, burial and resurrection. Women, so often discriminated against and excluded from positions of responsibility, are seen in the Gospels to play a leading role in the history of revelation.”

Pope Francis then reflects on the way the poor in every generation “know the suffering of Christ through their own suffering… We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends…”

Often we hear or read the similar episode in John 12:1-8, where the statement of Jesus, “You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me” may lead to a shrug of the shoulder: What can I do about it? This seems to imply that poverty is inevitable in every generation. Mark’s text, however, includes a reference to the Book of Deuteronomy. Pope Francis notes that Jesus calls us to seek every opportunity to do good. “Behind it, we can glimpse the ancient biblical command of Deuteronomy 15:7-11.” Thus Jesus has challenged his disciples to obey this precept in relation to the parable of the sheep and goats on the Day of Judgment (see Matthew 25:31-46).

The text of this message for the World Day of the Poor is available on the Vatican website here.

May every day find us open to the true needs of the poor!

Acknowledging Genocide

For many centuries the history of conflicts and wars has been written by the victors. The memory of atrocities, however, is recorded in the oral traditions among survivors of those who lost their freedom and, in some cases, their identity.

Since the Second World War, when the term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemke, the relentless attack on civilians in minorities has been seen as uniquely odious.

What degree of humility and self-judgment is necessary for a government to acknowledge responsibility for an attack aimed at the destruction of an entire ethnic community? Has this ever happened by the governing power under which the vicious acts took place? Not likely in the past. We hope that genocide will never occur again!

For centuries African communities have been under the domination of European naval powers. Both material resources and human lives have been exploited without any regard for the Golden Rule, a guiding principle applicable in every community and culture (See Scarboro Missions: https://www.scarboromissions.ca/golden-rule).

In recent weeks the German government acknowledged that the military attack from 1904-1908 on two tribes in South-West Africa (now called Namibia) constituted genocide. “The German government also agreed to establish a fund worth 1.1 billion euros, to be distributed over three decades, as part of the accord” (“Germany Officially Recognizes Mass Killings in Colonial-Era Namibia as Genocide,” Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2021). The descendants of Herero and Nama tribes claim that the negotiations should have been with their representatives rather than with the Namibian government. A government official said that “the two sides had reached an agreement in principle, which must be presented to representatives of the Herero and Nama communities and debated in parliament” (Wall Street Journal, May 29-30, 2021).

May a focus on the needs of these two communities living on “reservations” bring a modicum of reparation for past crimes!

Counteracting Hatred

Over the years many educators and other people of goodwill have fostered ways to promote proper relationships within society. Some explicitly cite the Golden Rule in one of its many forms to provide a foundation for such expression of human decency.  See Scarboro Missions: https://www.scarboromissions.ca/golden-rule.

In the past year and more, we have experienced the wrath of a pandemic that has caused many to retreat into isolation with its concomitant tensions and worries. It seems that some people have made a practice of lashing out against others. This has included acts against individuals and groups of especially vulnerable people. Besides decrying the abuse and violence we invite leaders in every community to offer guidance to those who show vicious forms of hatred, especially against Asians and Jewish people.

The Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies endorses the statement of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, “A Call for Solidarity with Our Jewish Colleagues and Neighbors:” https://ccjr.us/news/statements/ccjr-2021may28.

We also pray for peace in the Middle East and for the success of efforts to overcome the scourge of Covid-19.