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So Many Faces To Slap: Jewish-Catholic Relations in St. Louis

It is generally taken as a given in our politically correct age that clergy of one religion are supposed to respect the norms of the other religion and not interfere in internal dogmatic affairs. This is the principle that allows for interfaith dialogue, the open expression of religious perspectives without the fear of judgment or ridicule from other religions (at least not in public).

So was it wrong for Rabbi Susan Talve of the Central Reform Congregation (CRC) in St. Louis to allow two Catholic women to be ordained as priests, in direct opposition to established Church doctrine, in her temple’s sanctuary?

Talve has said her decision, unanimously approved by CRC’s board, “was based on its values of providing a sukkat shalom, or shelter of peace to the women seeking a religious venue,” and on hachnasat orchim, hospitality. But welcoming these particular guests was a politically charged action, and we would be naive to not read more into the decision.

What Talve and the CRC did was a huge slap in the face to the established Catholic Church. Disregarding a basic tenet of their faith was a clear violation of the basic respect between clergy of different faiths.

On the other hand, it’s a matter of which clergy they’re choosing to respect. Insomuch as the Catholic women now consider themselves to be priests, and are clearly part of a reform movement within the Church, Talve has chosen to ally herself with that particular group of Catholics rather than with the “orthodox” establishment. And how could she not? As a woman who is a rabbi, she makes her livelihood off of the very same challenge to established religious doctrine that the women-priests are attempting. To deny them aid would be a slap in the face to the cause for women’s equality in religion. It makes sense that, as a Reform rabbi, she would be loyal to the progressive elements within Catholicism rather than to the “orthodox” ones.

What’s more puzzling, to some troubling, about this incident is the fact that Talve allowed a Catholic religious ritual to be conducted in a Jewish sanctuary. Belief in one religion traditionally depends on the belief that the other religions are wrong, or at the very least that one religion operates distinctly from the others. The more subversive part of Talve’s and the women-priests actions is challenging those distinctions. When it comes to traditional notions of religion, that is the biggest slap in the face of all.

–Rebecca Honig Friedman