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Pope tells Israeli rabbis his comments on Jewish law weren’t meant to disparage

Francis caused concern among Jewish officials when he said recently that the law of the Torah ‘does not give life’

Pope Francis blesses faithful from the window as he delivers the Angelus prayer, on September 5, 2021 at St. Peter's square in the Vatican. (Tiziana FABI / AFP)
Pope Francis blesses faithful from the window as he delivers the Angelus prayer, on September 5, 2021 at St. Peter's square in the Vatican. (Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Pope Francis has sought to assuage concerns over comments he made about Jewish law that some Jewish leaders viewed as disparaging, according to a new report.

Reuters said Monday that the pope had conveyed to Israel’s chief rabbinate that he had not intended to be seen as passing judgment on the law of the Torah.

Last month Francis caused consternation when he told an audience that the law of the Jewish Torah “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.”

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, the chairman of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s Commission for Dialogue with the Holy See, sent a latter to the Vatican requesting clarification of the comments.

“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.”

According to Reuters, Cardinal Kurt Koch, who deals with religious relations with Jews, wrote to Arousi that the pope had not meant to pass judgment on Jewish law.

The letter cited a 2015 quote from Francis that “The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah.”

The report also noted that in a blessing for the Jewish New Year this week, the pope said: “May the new year be rich with fruits of peace, and good for those who walk faithfully in the law of the Lord.”

The use of the word law in the comment was intentional, according to Vatican and  Jewish sources who spoke to Reuters.

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)

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 positive relationship with the Jewish community. In July 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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