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Israeli rabbis troubled by Pope Francis’ recent comments on Jewish law

Lors de son voyage en Terre Sainte en mai 2014, accolade entre François et le rabbin argentin Abraham Skorka, ami de longue date, devant le mur des Lamentations © ANDREW MEDICHINI / POOL / AFP

I.Media for Aleteia - published on 08/26/21 - updated on 08/26/21

Pope Francis' words at a general audience raise concerns from Israeli rabbis, who hope to hear a clarification from the Vatican.

According to Reuters news agency, Israeli rabbis—represented by the chairman of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Commission for Dialogue with the Holy See—lamented Pope Francis’ recent comments on Jewish law and asked for clarification. During the general audience of August 11, 2021, Pope Francis said, “[Jewish] Law does not give life.”

“In a letter seen by Reuters, Rabbi Rasson Arousi […] said the comments seemed to suggest that Jewish law was obsolete,” the news agency reports, adding that the Vatican is currently studying the letter and considering a response.

The letter was written the day after the catechesis of the Pope on August 11, 2021. The head of the Catholic Church explored in depth a passage from the letter to the Galatians written by Paul after the resurrection of Jesus for several hundred pilgrims who had come to hear him speak. In the text from Galatians the apostle sets out the relationship that the followers of Christ—converted Jews or converted pagans—must henceforth have with Jewish law.

In his teaching, the Pope recalled that Saint Paul was not “against” the Mosaic Law, that he “observed” it and had defended its divine origin several times. “But, he added, the Law does not give life, it does not offer the fulfillment of the promise, because it is not in the condition of being able to fulfill it.” In this perspective, the successor of Peter explained that it was necessary to consider Law as a “pedagogue towards faith in Christ.”

A form of “contempt for Jews and Judaism”

“In his homily, the Pope presents the Christian faith not only as a replacement for the Torah, but affirms that the latter no longer gives life, which implies that the Jewish religious practice at the present time is made obsolete”, lamented the Rabbi Arousi in his letter to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

He adds, “This is an integral part of teaching contempt for Jews and Judaism that we thought had been definitively disowned by the Church.”

The rabbi therefore asks for clarification from Pope Francis to “ensure that any derogatory conclusion drawn from this homily is clearly repudiated.”

Since 1965, increasingly close relations between Catholics and Jews

Rabbi Rasson Arousi knows the Vatican well as he chairs the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for Dialogue with the Holy See. This bilateral commission was born out of the momentum of John Paul II’s meeting in Jerusalem with the Chief Rabbis of Israel in 2000. Since then, a meeting has taken place every year, alternately in Rome and in Jerusalem, between representatives of the Catholic Church and Jewish authorities.

Rabbi Rasson Arousi has been taking part in this meeting since 2015. In 2018, during a meeting in Rome, Pope Francis received the commission in a private audience. At that time the Holy Father reaffirmed his personal commitment to the progress of relations between Catholics and Jews saying, “We are brothers and children of one God and we must work for peace, hand in hand.”

In 2015, during a meeting in Jerusalem, the two sides rejoiced at the production of a document commemorating Nostra Aetate (the first conciliar declaration to offer a theological commentary on relations between Israel and the Church was published in 1965 during the Second Vatican Council).

In the document marking the anniversary, the Jewish representatives—including Rabbi Rasson Arousi—and Catholics hailed the common recognition of “the eternal validity of the Divine Covenant with the Jewish people, called to be faithful to the Torah” as well as the recognition of “the value of faith and of the Jewish interpretation of Sacred Scripture.”

Towards a clarification?

Could the rabbi’s handwritten protest mark a halt in the recent history of relations between Jewish and Catholic representatives? In fact, the situation could be clarified quickly.

According to Reuters, Rabbi Arousi considered that it is possible that part of Pope Francis’ remarks were written by assistants and that its text was not properly verified.

Pope Francis

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