Rabbinate seeks clarification on Pope’s comments suggesting Torah is obsolete

The comments have the potential to set back Catholic-Jewish relations by decades.

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has written to the Vatican over concerns that Pope Francis, in a recent speech, made comments that appeared to suggest Jewish law is obsolete, Reuters reported. The comments have the potential to set back Catholic-Jewish relations by decades.

Reflecting on Paul’s comments on Torah law in the New Testament while addressing a general audience on August 11, Pope Francis 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 following day, Rabbi Rasson Arousi, chair of the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for Dialogue with the Holy See, wrote to Cardinal Kurt Koch on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate to ask for clarification on 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,” Arousi said in the letter, seen by Reuters.

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“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 added.

The office of Cardinal Koch, whose Vatican department includes a commission for religious relations with Jews, confirmed that Koch had received the letter and was “considering it seriously and reflecting on a response.”

For the last 56 years, Catholics and Jews have enjoyed inter-religious dialogue following the Second Vatican Council which, in 1965, repudiated the notion of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus. Francis has visited synagogues, as had his two predecessors.

“To say that this fundamental tenet of Judaism does not give life is to denigrate the basic religious outlook of Jews and Judaism. It could have been written before the Council,” Father John Pawlikowski, former director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, told Reuters.

Professor Philip Cunningham, director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said “I think it’s a problem for Jewish ears, especially because the pope’s remarks were addressed to a Catholic audience,” but added “It could be understood as devaluing Jewish observance of the Torah today.”

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Pope Francis’s comments also appear to contradict the New Testament teachings of Paul, who wrote in his letter to the Romans: “The Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. … Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”