John Paul II

Assessing His Legacy

One of the more remarkable expressions of the openness and the atmosphere of universal communication in Western society is that religious figures are judged by their impact on other religious communities as well as their own.

The legacy of Pope John Paul II that had the greatest impact on Jewry may well be one that he left to all of humanity—his role in inspiring and sustaining the Solidarity movement. Poland’s breakaway was a major factor in bringing down the Soviet system. For one shining movement, thanks to the deep personal connection between Karol Wojtyla and the Polish people, obedience to God became resistance to tyranny. With his powerful, gentle goading, national identity became the vehicle of human dignity and freedom while religious devotion reinforced moral conviction and conscience to defy imperialist oppression. Upheld by John Paul’s spiritual force, Solidarity—despite relentless pressure—refused to stoop to anti-Semitism to protect its popularity with the masses.

In enabling the downfall of the Soviet Empire, John Paul II helped overthrow the most consistent postwar enemy of the Jews. Since the 1940s, the Communist system in its totalitarian insistence on uniformity had been the implacable enemy of Soviet Jews and their right to be themselves, religiously and culturally. Similarly, Stalinism was the most powerful antagonist of the Jewish right to statehood and self-...

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About the Author

Rabbi Irving Greenberg is president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity.