David-Maria Jaeger has become a well-known Canon Lawyer by now, and serves as the Holy See’s legal expert and adviser in the talks with the State of Israel. He was the key negotiator in preparing the “Fundamental Agreement” signed by the two states in 1993. His personality is exceptional and unique, and although being a Catholic priest he views himself as a patriotic Israeli Jew. “I’m really happy and grateful for my fate of belonging to the Jewish people. In terms of my origin, I’m a Jew, more precisely, born as an Israeli Jew. I just cannot conceive of it ever being otherwise. In fact, why should it be otherwise?”
Six years of retreat
David-Maria Jaeger was born in Tel-Aviv to a middle-class Jewish family. He started his studies at a religious, Zionist elementary school that was followed by a religious high school, after which he moved to a total retreat, hiding away from the world. During the years of meditation he underwent an overwhelming change of faith that determined his life path, and converted into Christianity.
Attorney Chaim Stanger, a close friend of Jaeger’s, recalls this period: “David disappeared for six years. When he returned, he said to me: ‘»You know, I’m now in the Catholic Church«. (…) This period of his life is a black hole for me. He has never talked about the process he underwent. He just said: »Chaim, we will talk when the time comes«.
“I lost my faith”
“I lost my faith completely. I converted to Christianity, but not at all from Judaism, but rather from total unbelief. This fact has fundamentally determined my approach to Christianity. I examined, studied and embraced the Christian faith.” – explained David-Maria Jaeger the spiritual background processes of the changes in an interview. He also added that never ever his family or friends made any criticism over his step of leaving Judaism. His father, Gershon, was the headmaster of the Kugel High School in Holon, while his mother, Dvora, was Brazil’s deputy consul in Israel.
“David’s father behaved as if he did not know his son had converted to Christianity. To my understanding they just avoided talking about it. He was loved by both of his parents, his mother gave support and tenderness to him.” – noted Chaim
A bridge-builder between the Vatican and Israel
After obtaining his ecclesiastical Doctorate in Canon Law, Father David Jaeger worked as a professor in Jerusalem and Rome, and acquired important practical knowledge and experience in legal issues. Father Jaeger is famous for his caring attention and sensibility, he did a lot for improving ecumenism, as well as the institutional and diplomatic development of the Judeo-Christian dialogue. He served 19 years as legal adviser to the Vatican, and in this capacity he was a key figure in advancing the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. The hard work negotiations the Franciscan friar David-Maria Jaeger was involved in as delegate to Rome of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land finally proved to be effective, and in 1993 led to the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the two States. As for the situation in the Holy Land, he noted that safety hides in peace, adding that justice, fairness and legal equality are the ways to achieve the peace that both the Israeli and Palestinian parties are desperately in need of.
In the 1990s Father Jaeger served as Head of the Diocesan Court of Austin (Texas, USA), where he was responsible, amongst others, for matters to make decisions on issues of canon law such as marriage annulments.
In 1999 he was appointed Professor of the Pontifical Athenaeum Antonianum in Rome, while in 2011 Pope Benedict XVI commissioned him a prelate auditor (judge) to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Apostolic Holy See’s highest law court. His assignment to this post was considered a great and important recognition not only for the highly intelligent Franciscan friar, but also for his community. “A source of joy and pride for the entire Franciscan community, in particular for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, where Father Jaeger was enthusiastically serving for long years also as the Custody’s delegate to Rome.” – responded the community to the news.
On the occasion of his appointment an article was published by the Jewish community in the newspaper Haaretz, presenting his life path, his hard decisions, while highlighting his sophisticated diplomatic ability and excellent cultural literacy. The paper emphasized that Father Jaeger was able to prove and make fruitful all the richness of his spiritual synthesis between his Jewish roots and Christian sensibility, even in the highest level of the institutional and ecclesiastical circles.
David Jaeger happily recalls the egalitarian society of Israel in the years of 1950’s and 1960’s: “In my class, we were the children of government officials, professionals, businessmen and scientists, as well as the children of street sweepers and labourers.”
He is still very much attached to his homeland, and so he characterises the fast evolving city of Tel Aviv: “It is an open city, a city that has always promoted Israel’s newness, the new beginning that our nation so much wanted. For me Israel means first of all Tel Aviv.”
The Hungarian connection
As for his Hungarian origin, the Franciscan friar spoke about his father’s extended family, who once lived on the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, while the immediate family resided in the city Munkács that belonged to Czechoslovakia after the First World War. The rest of the family remained in the area being part of Hungary. His father quite often travelled to Szeged and its surroundings, where relatives were living. As a child, Father Jaeger often heard Hungarian talks around him. His father had a great admiration and recognition for the Hungarian nation. Even more so, and in spite of his Jewish origin, as a teacher of history, he wrote his doctoral thesis on the topic of the Hungarians’ role in the Christian Europe’s defence. “Although I myself do not speak Hungarian, my heart all the time goes out to the Hungarians” – closed the interview David Jaeger, Franciscan friar of the Custody of the Holy Land and its delegate to Rome, given to the Hungarian program of the Radio Vaticana.
Source: thejc.com, custodia.org, caspari.com, cna.com, Radio Vaticana