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Vatican denies Pope questioned validity of the Torah

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The Vatican has rejected criticism from senior Israeli rabbis over remarks by Pope Francis about Jewish books of sacred law, saying he was not questioning their continuing validity for Jews today.

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Last month Reuters reported that Rabbi Rasson Arousi, who is in charge of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s relations with the Vatican, had written a stern letter to the Vatican in which he said that Francis’ comments at a general audience on 11 August appeared to suggest that the Torah, or Jewish law, was obsolete.

The Vatican’s official response said the pope’s comments in a homily on the writings of St. Paul should not be extrapolated from their context of ancient times and had no bearings on today’s Jews.

“The abiding Christian conviction is that Jesus Christ is the new way of salvation. However, this does not mean that the Torah is diminished or no longer recognised as the ‘way of salvation for Jews,'” wrote Cardinal Kurt Koch, whose Vatican department covers religious relations with Jews.

“In his catechesis the Holy Father does not make any mention of modern Judaism; the address is a reflection on (St. Paul’s) theology within the historical context of a given era,” Koch wrote.

“The fact that the Torah is crucial for modern Judaism is not questioned in any way,” he said.

READ: Mediterranean Sea ‘largest cemetery in Europe’, says Pope 

The Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, contains hundreds of commandments 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.

In his letter to Koch in August, Arousi said the pope’s comments risked a return of the “teaching of contempt” that was prevalent in the Catholic Church until the last century.

“Bearing in mind the positive affirmations constantly made by Pope Francis on Judaism, it cannot in any way be presumed that he is returning to a so-called ‘doctrine of contempt,'” Koch wrote.

“Pope Francis fully respects the foundations of Judaism and always seeks to deepen the bonds of friendship between the two faith traditions,” he said.

Relations between Catholics and Jews were revolutionised in 1965, when the Second Vatican Council repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus and began decades of inter-religious dialogue. Francis and his two predecessors visited synagogues.

Francis has had a good relationship with Jews. While still archbishop in his native Buenos Aires, he co-wrote a book with one of the city’s rabbis, Abraham Skorka, and has maintained a lasting friendship with him.

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