Forward Thinking

A Possible Pope Goes to Shul

By Jerome Chanes

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Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, went to shul Shabbat yesterday. Not for the usual davening.

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Timothy Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Dolan, who is considered papabile (a candidate, albeit a very dark-horse candidate, for the papal throne recently vacated by Pope Benedict XVI), immediately captured the standing-room-only crowd in the Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue by greeting the congregation with an open-armed, joyous, blazon: “How papal is that!”

A moment later, the cardinal, in a consummate display of theater, interrupted his talk in mid-sentence, left his lectern, walked across the synagogue bimah, and exchanged his zucchetto (the red yarlmulke-like cap) with the kippah of the bar-mitzvah boy.

In his prepared remarks, Dolan offered no surprises. Identifying two core practices Catholics and Jews have in common — the Sabbath and the tradition of “good works ”— the cardinal noted that each has been a model not only for the two faith-communities, “but for the entire world.”

Cardinal Dolan’s agenda was clearly that of bridge-building with the Orthodox community (“Six hundred thirteen commandments? I have trouble with The Ten!”). He noted the “historical leadership role” of Lincoln Square in New York’s Orthodox arena.

A number of congregants, however, expressed mild disappointment that his remarks were not more substantive. “It was a missed opportunity,” offered one congregant, an analyst of Jewish affairs. “Forty-five years after Nostra Aetate [the Vatican II document that repudiated Catholic antisemitism and teachings of contempt”], there is a rich history of Vatican-Jewish relations and American Catholic-Jewish relations—most of which is very good. Dolan might have spent a minute on this.”

Cardinal Dolan was welcomed to Lincoln Square by Shaul Robinson, the synagogue’s senior rabbi, who noted the role that Dolan, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, has played in enhancing Catholic-Jewish relations in New York and elsewhere.

Analysts of New York synagogue affairs opined that Cardinal Dolan’s visit was part of a campaign to position the Lincoln Square Synagogue, now housed in a new building, as a cutting-edge congregation, a position it held forty years ago. Nonetheless, a small number of congregants boycotted the cardinal’s talk, expressing their disapproval of a Catholic clerical visit on a Shabbat.

For his part, the cardinal chose not to stay for the cholent at the synagogue Kiddush.


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