#10 Shared Exploration of Catholicism & Judaism (Michael O’Connell & Rabbi Zimmerman)

Rabbi Zimmerman talks with longtime friend and colleague Michael O’Connell, the former rector of the Basilica of St. Mary. Together they discuss their ongoing commitment to interfaith work, the highlights of joint travel to Jerusalem, the implications of Jesus’ Jewish identity, and historical moments in Jewish-Catholic dialogue. Please subscribe and share this episode with a friend. Comments and questions can be directed to tmoss@templeisrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below. 

Michael O’Connell
I‘m grateful to be with you and my friends from Temple, and I say that in a very heartfelt way. I’ve had almost a thirty-year history with Temple. It’s framed who I am, certainly humanly from the opportunity to meet so many incredible people, but also spiritually. I cannot possibly think of myself as a Christian unless I at the same time understand that whatever that means, it is fundamentally rooted in Judaism. It is simply impossible to think of my Christian faith and who Jesus is without understanding that he was a Jew. He was a Galilean Jew. He was clueless about Catholics, and Protestants, and Muslims, and so on and so forth. Born a Galilean Jew, he died one. His mind, his heart, his body, and his soul were framed in that reference. That’s why I feel so close to the Jewish community.

Rabbi Zimmerman
I remember when we sat in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and I was honored to go into the area with the tomb with you. I’d been to the church many times, but never wanted to wait in line and as a Jew take up a place in that very long line of pilgrims, essentially. But you invited me in to be a witness. 

Talk about Jesus and the history of Jesus in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in the Galilee, and help temple listeners hear that history, because Jews don’t often know it and I’ve learned it so well from you.

Michael O’Connell
I’ve been there 5 times. It’s the one place in the world I would still go back to. I don’t need to go any place else. It’s a pilgrimage. It’s going to the place that is the foundation of your faith. It’s going to a place where the visual impact is profound because you’ve been hearing stories for years, you’ve gone through the gospels and the Hebrew scriptures, and this is where it happened. 

Rabbi Zimmerman
Yes, walking up the southern steps of the Jerusalem Temple where Jesus walked, and likewise the place of Abraham and Sarah. The history is felt in your legs and your heart. It’s a powerful place.

Michael O’Connell
The last 3 times I’ve been there I’ve gone straight north. You go to Caesarea. You get to know Herod, because if you don’t know Herod, you don’t know Jesus. You need to know that context. 

And then the next choice is fundamental to me: to go to Nazareth. I believe in a strong appreciate faith that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But if you drill me to the wall on that one, and ask my real historical understanding, I think he was born in Nazareth.      

The gospels tell the story of the birth in order to connect it to Jewish history, and Bethlehem as the place where the messiah is supposed to come from. And that’s a wonderful connection, but here’s my point. The hidden life of Jesus of Nazareth is what for me is so utterly fascinating. There’s virtually nothing we know about it. But he was there from post infancy until probably his twenties or even thirties. 

If you lived there, you were dirt poor. There was nothing cosmopolitan. It was a backwater. And that’s where he lived. So I’m fascinated by being there, and at one place in particular. There’s a big Catholic church there, but it’s a little bit Disney land. Half a block from that place, there’s a well that’s still there. And like any ancient city, the well was a very important place. It was the local post office where everybody got together, exchanged gossip, found out what was going on. And you might go there twice a day, and it was women who went with their jugs of water. There weren’t schools at the time so their kids came with them to the well. That’s the image that’s so powerful or me. 

When I go to the well, I just say what did this kid learn? Jesus’ mom taught him his faith. I strongly believe that the faith she taught him was essentially found in the Psalms. They’re beautiful, they’re poetry. It’s all there, the rachamim. The mercy.

You know Christians were kind of dumb, talking about the Old Testament God versus the New Testamnt God—that the New Testament God was into rachamim and chesed, but the Old Testament God was judgmental and strict. It’s all baloney, it was the other way around. It’s all in the Psalms. It’s the wallpaper: compassion, loving-kindness, forgiveness. It’s constantly there over and over in the Psalms. 

 Welcome to Temple Talks, a new podcast from Temple Israel in Minneapolis, where Jewish wisdom meets our ever-changing world. Join us as we talk with our favorite partners and thought leaders, from around town and around the world. We hope these talks will inspire you, challenge you, and give us all new ideas about Judaism, religious life, and social justice. Join us for services, learning, and community at TempleIsrael.com.