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Israel rabbis ask pope to clarify remarks on Jewish law

Pope Francis waves during his weekly outdoors general audience on May 26, 2021 at the San Damaso courtyard in the Vatican [ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images]
Pope Francis waves during his weekly outdoors general audience on May 26, 2021 at the San Damaso courtyard in the Vatican [ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel's top Jewish religious authorities have told the Vatican they are concerned about comments that Pope Francis made about their books of sacred law and have asked for a clarification.

In a letter seen by Reuters, Rabbi Rasson Arousi, chair of the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for Dialogue with the Holy See, said the comments appeared to suggest Jewish law was obsolete.

Vatican authorities said they were studying the letter and were considering a response.

Rabbi Arousi wrote a day after the pope spoke about the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, during a general audience on 11 August.

The Torah contains hundreds of commandments, or mitzvot, for Jews to follow in their everyday lives. The measure of adherence to the wide array of guidelines differs between Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews.

At the audience, the pope, who was reflecting on what St. Paul said about the Torah in the New Testament, said: "The law [Torah] however does not give life."

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"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."

Rabbi Arousi sent the 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 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," Arousi said 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," he said.

Koch's office said yesterday he had received the letter, was "considering it seriously and reflecting on a response".

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