Monday, March 30, 2009

Catholic bishop ends Passover meal at church

A Passover seder meal that has been held at a Catholic Church every Palm Sunday for 20 years was canceled last week, a day after the invitation letters went out.

Bishop Edward J. Slattery said he decided to cancel the event after a rabbi told him it could be offensive to Jews. He did not identify the rabbi, and rabbis at Tulsa's two major synagogues said they knew nothing about it.

"There's nothing in Catholic teaching or law that would prevent a group from having a seder meal to teach the faithful the origins of our own Mass, which comes from the seder," Slattery said.

"But when one rabbi told me that would be taking something that is sacred to them and using it for a teaching tool, I didn't want it done ... out of courtesy and sensitivity to them. He said it would be something akin to non-Catholics conducting a Catholic Mass to teach their people about it."

Last year more than 400 people attended the seder at Christ the King Catholic Church.

"People loved it," said Catholic Deacon Steve Litwack, who has organized the event since its inception. "A lot of people are unhappy about this. I'm very sad and disappointed," he said.

Litwack, who was raised Jewish and now worships in the Catholic Church, said he sees the meal as a bridge between the two faiths.

"There's no way I would do anything to offend the Jewish community. We're doing it with honor and respect," he said.

Some Christian organizations hold Passover seder meals at which they explain the Christian symbolism found in the Passover, a practice that some Jews find offensive. The Bible records that the Last Supper, at which Jesus instituted the Communion, was a Passover meal.

But Litwack said his seder does not mention Christ or the Last Supper.

"What we do is an authentic Jewish seder, with the same books and authentic foods," he said. "We do not Christianize it."

"We keep the kosher laws, no meat in milk, no pork. It's a wonderful three-hour dinner celebration and Bible study telling the history of the Jewish people.

"We did not use this as a teaching tool," he said. "We were actually celebrating the ritual, which the Bible says is open to all people."

Passover this year begins on April 9.

Rabbi Marc Fitzerman, Congregation B'nai Emunah, said, "Church Passover seders are a complicated issue for both Jews and Christians.

"The concern is always that powerful symbols and narratives will be invested with meanings that are different from the original.

"It's always best to proceed with caution and to make certain that there is deep respect for authenticity on both sides of the equation."

Rabbi Charles Sherman, Temple Israel, said he was surprised to learn that a seder at Christ the King Catholic Church was canceled by the bishop.

Sherman said he is conducting a Passover seder April 4 at St. Pius Catholic Church, and has done that at many Christian churches over the years.

"I have only one guideline," he said.

"I'll do a seder as a demonstration for your congregation of how your Jewish neighbors celebrate Passover. Any interpretation will have to be done at another time. That night, we're going to have a Jewish experience."

Sherman said Jews are concerned about the appropriation of Jewish rituals by other religious faiths.

"There are some churches, I understand, that have made a seder something that isn't appropriate, using Jewish symbols but giving them a Christological interpretation. I don't think that kind of borrowing is legitimate."

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(Source: TW)