Israeli rabbis call on Pope to clarify comments about Jewish law
- The Pope in his homily: “Yet the law does not give life …”
- Rabbi says comments could lead to “derogatory conclusions”
- Vatican studies rabbi’s letter and considers response
VATICAN CITY, Aug. 25 (Reuters) – Israel’s highest Jewish religious authorities have told the Vatican they are concerned about Pope Francis’ comments about their sacred law books and have asked for clarification.
In a letter seen by Reuters, Rabbi Rasson Arousi, chairman of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Commission for Dialogue with the Holy See, said the comments appeared to suggest that Jewish law was outdated.
Vatican officials said they were studying the letter and considering a response.
Rabbi Arousi wrote a day after the Pope spoke about the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, in a general audience on August 11.
The Torah contains hundreds of commandments, or mitzvot, that Jews must follow in their daily lives. The extent of adherence to the wide array of directives differs between Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews.
During the audience, the Pope, reflecting on what Saint Paul said about the Torah in the New Testament, said: “The law (Torah), however, does not give life.
“He does not offer the fulfillment of the promise because he is not able to fulfill it … Those who seek life must turn to the promise and its fulfillment in Christ.”
Rabbi Arousi sent the letter on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate – the supreme rabbinical authority for Judaism in Israel – to Cardinal Kurt Koch, whose Vatican department includes a commission for religious relations with the Jews.
“In his homily, the Pope presents the Christian faith as not only replacing the Torah, but asserts that the latter no longer gives life, which implies that Jewish religious practice in the present day is being made obsolete,” Arousi said in the letter.
“This is indeed an integral part of the ‘teaching of contempt’ for Jews and Judaism which we thought had been entirely repudiated by the Church,” he said.
Relations between Catholics and Jews were revolutionized in 1965, when the Second Vatican Council repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus and began decades of interfaith dialogue. Francis and his two predecessors visited synagogues.
Two prominent Catholic scholars on religious relations with Jews agreed that the Pope’s remarks could be seen as an embarrassing setback and needed to be clarified.
To say that this fundamental principle of Judaism does not give life is to denigrate the fundamental religious view of the Jews and of Judaism. It could have been written before the Council, ”said Father John Pawlikowski, former director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies program at the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago.
“I think this is a problem for Jewish ears, especially since the pope’s words were addressed to a Catholic audience,” said Prof. Philip Cunningham, director of the Institute for Judeo-Catholic Relations. St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
“It could be understood as a devaluation of Jewish Torah observance today,” Cunningham said.
Arousi and Pawlikowski said it was possible that at least part of the Pope’s educational homily, known as the catechesis, was written by assistants and the sentence was not properly verified.
Koch’s office said on Wednesday that it had received the letter, that it was “seriously considering it and considering a response.”
Francis had very good relations with the Jews. While still archbishop in the hometown of Buenos Aires, he co-wrote a book with one of the city’s rabbis, Abraham Skorka, and maintained a lasting friendship with him.
In his letter to Cardinal Koch, Arousi asked him to “convey our distress to Pope Francis” and requested clarification from the Pope to “ensure that all derogatory conclusions drawn from this homily are clearly repudiated”.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens
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