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Bibi’s gift to Pope Francis: A book on when the church persecuted the Jews

by Ben Sales, JTA

December 2, 2013 | 12:46 pm

Pope Francis, left, talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Vatican on Dec. 2. Photo by Alessandra Tarantino/Reuters

Pope Francis, left, talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Vatican on Dec. 2. Photo by Alessandra Tarantino/Reuters

Sounds like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a lovely meeting with Pope Francis.

They talked for about a half-hour, focused on peace talks and touched on Iran. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, encouraged Francis to visit Israel. And Netanyahu gave the pope a book with the inscription, “To his Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our common heritage.”

The one slightly uncomfortable part may have been that the book was about one of the worst things the Catholic Church has ever done to the Jews.

Awkward!

The book was “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain,” the scholarly magnum opus written by the prime minister’s late father, Benzion. The in-depth tome on the Spanish Inquisition describes how the church persecuted, and often executed, masses of Jewish converts to Catholicism who were accused of secretly practicing Judaism.

Maybe the gift was yet another reminder from Netanyahu about the dangers of ignoring an existential threat to the Jewish people (read: Iran). Maybe the pope is an avid student of history.

Or maybe, in an age where a Jewish prime minister can meet cordially with the pope, it’s a sign of just how far we’ve come.

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