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Chief Rabbinate protests to Vatican over pope’s remarks on Torah

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi shares ‘distress’ over recent comments by Francis that Jewish law ‘does not give life’

Pope Francis speaks during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Pope Francis speaks during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, the chairman of the Chief Rabbinate’s Commission for Dialogue with the Holy See, has expressed concern over recent remarks by Pope Francis about Jewish law.

Arusi sent a letter to the Vatican requesting the clarification of comments the pope made to a general audience earlier this month, Reuters reported Wednesday.

On August 11, Francis spoke at the Vatican about the first five books of the Bible, known in Hebrew as the Torah. The pope referenced the biblical story of God giving the Torah to the Jewish people: “God offered them the Torah, the Law, so they could understand his will and live in justice. We have to think that at that time, a Law like this was necessary, it was a tremendous gift that God gave his people.”

But later Francis added: “The Law, however, does not give life, it does not offer the fulfillment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfill it. The Law is a journey, a journey that leads toward an encounter… Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfillment in Christ,” the pope said, according to the official Vatican English translation of his remarks.

Arusi sent a letter on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate to Cardinal Kurt Koch, whose Vatican department includes a commission for religious relations with Jews.

“In his homily, the pope presents the Christian faith as not just superseding the Torah; but asserts that the latter no longer gives life, implying that Jewish religious practice in the present era is rendered obsolete,” Arusi reportedly wrote in the letter. “This is in effect part and parcel of the ‘teaching of contempt’ towards Jews and Judaism that we had thought had been fully repudiated by the Church.”

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi attends a swearing in ceremony for the Rabbinate Council at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, on October 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The rabbi asked Koch to “convey our distress to Pope Francis,” and requested clarification from the pope to “ensure that any derogatory conclusions drawn from this homily are clearly repudiated.”

Koch’s office told Reuters on Wednesday that he had received the letter, and was “considering it seriously and reflecting on a response.”

Francis has had a largely positive relationship with the Jewish community. Last month, he restricted the use of the Latin Mass, a form of the liturgy favored by traditionalist Catholics that calls for the conversion of the Jews and that until 2008 included a reference to Jewish “blindness.”

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