Chief rabbi seeks Catholic help to protect Israel

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • October 10, 2008
{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Israeli Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa, asked Pope Benedict XVI and top Catholic leaders to continue learning to appreciate the Jewish people and to speak out to defend Israel.

“I thank God who has kept us alive to be together and work for a future of peace and co-existence the world over,” the 80-year-old rabbi told the world Synod of Bishops on the Bible.
With Pope Benedict sitting nearby, Cohen addressed synod members Oct. 6, telling them of the centrality of the word of God in Jewish life and prayer and its continuing relevance in responding to modern concerns, including promoting the dignity of human life, fighting promiscuity and secularism, and encouraging tolerance and peace.

But Cohen also asked Catholic leaders to speak out against anti-Semitism and attacks on the state of Israel. Without mentioning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by name, he spoke of “deep shock at the terrible and vicious words of the president of a certain state in the Middle East in his speech last month at the United Nations General Assembly.”

Addressing the United Nations Sept. 23, Ahmadinejad said Israel was on a “definite slope to collapse” and accused Jews of “dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centres of some European countries and the U.S. in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner.”

Cohen told the synod, “We hope to get your help as religious leaders — as well as the help of the entire free world — to protect, defend and save Israel, the one and only sovereign state of the ‛people of the book,’ from the hands of our enemies.

“Being here with you makes me feel that we can expect your help,” he said.

After his talk, Cohen told reporters outside the synod hall that his plea to Catholic leaders to raise their voices in defence of the Jews was also a sign of his displeasure over the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII.

“I did not want to offend anybody,” he said, but Pope Pius “should not be sanctified or looked up to because of his failure to save us, to raise his voice, even if he secretly tried to help” save Jews during the Second World War.

“Maybe he was afraid, or for other reasons known to him he did not raise his voice. And that we cannot forget,” Cohen said.

Defenders of Pope Pius say he encouraged religious orders and Vatican-related institutions to open their doors and hide Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. They also say that his opposition to the Nazis’ policies was clear, but if he had spoken out the Nazis would have retaliated, leading to a greater loss of life.

In his speech to the synod, the rabbi said he accepted Pope Benedict’s invitation to be the first Jewish representative to address a synod as a sign of the Catholic Church’s desire to continue healing the “long, hard and painful history of the relationship between our people.”

As synod members prepared to discuss the word of God in the life and mission of the church, Cohen told them the Jewish Scriptures — the Torah or first five books of the Bible, the “Nevi’im” or books of the prophets, and the “Ketuvim” or other writings, including Psalms and Proverbs — “are the source and inspiration of our prayers and our service of God.”

Scripture readings are the centrepiece of Jewish liturgy and all Jewish prayers are built around biblical quotations, the rabbi said.

Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, the former secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, spoke after the rabbi, reviewing for synod members the teaching in the commission’s 2001 document, “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.”

“The Old Testament is not simply a piece among others in the Christian Bible. It is the base, the fundamental part,” he said. “If the New Testament was established on another basis, it would have no real value. Without its conformity to the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people, it could not be presented as the accomplishment of God’s project.”

Vanhoye said the document explained the error of Christians thinking that references to Jesus in the Old Testament are so clear that the Jews must be “obstinate” or “incredulous” not to see them.

In addition, the cardinal said, while the New Testament recounts tensions between new Christians and their original Jewish communities, the polemics are not as strong as those found between disputing Jews in the Old Testament.

“Real anti-Jewish feeling, that is, an attitude of contempt, hostility and persecution of the Jews as Jews, is not found in any New Testament text and is not compatible with its teaching,” Vanhoye said.

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