Pope Francis moves to calm concern over Jewish law comments

Jewish religious leaders expressed concern over the comments that appeared to suggest the Torah was obsolete

Pope Francis has moved to allay Jewish concerns following comments he made about their books of sacred law, Vatican and Jewish community sources said on Monday.

Last month, Reuters reported that Rabbi Rasson Arousi, chairman of the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for Dialogue with the Holy See, wrote to the Vatican, saying that Francis' comments appeared to suggest that the Torah, or Jewish law, was obsolete.

At a general audience on August 11, the Pope said: “The law [Torah] however does not give life.

“It does not offer the fulfilment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfil it … Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfilment in Christ.”

The Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, contains hundreds of commandments for Jews to follow in their everyday lives.

The measure of adherence to the guidelines differs between Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews.

Rabbi Arousi sent his letter on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate – the supreme rabbinic authority for Judaism in Israel – to Cardinal Kurt Koch, whose Vatican department includes a commission for relations with Jews.

In the letter, Rabbi Arousi asked Cardinal Koch to "convey our distress to Pope Francis” and asked for a clarification from the Pope to “ensure that any derogatory conclusions drawn from this homily are clearly repudiated".

Reconciliation

The Pope then asked Cardinal Koch to explain that his words on the Torah reflecting on the writings of St Paul in the New Testament should not be taken as a judgment on Jewish law, the sources said.

Last week, Cardinal Koch sent a letter to Rabbi Arousi containing a quote made by Pope Francis in 2015: “The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah.”

Jewish sources said they saw the Vatican letter as a sign of reconciliation.

The Pope appeared to go out of his way in his last two public appearances to try to clear up what the Vatican considers a misunderstanding.

At a general audience on September 1, the Pope said his words on St Paul's writings were “simply a catechesis [teaching homily] … and nothing else".

At his weekly blessing on Sunday, he offered best wishes to Jews for the coming New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and for the feasts of Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

“May the new year be rich with fruits of peace, and good for those who walk faithfully in the law of the Lord,” he said.

Both Jewish and Vatican sources said the inclusion of the word “law” in what are normally routine greetings was significant and intentional.

Relations between Catholics and Jews were revolutionised in 1965, when the Second Vatican Council repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus and began decades of interreligious dialogue.

Pope Francis and his two predecessors visited synagogues.

Francis has had a very good relationship with Jews. While still archbishop in native Buenos Aires, he co-wrote a book with one of the city's rabbis, Abraham Skorka, and has maintained a friendship with him.

Updated: September 6th 2021, 1:53 PM
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