Rabbi says to pope that Jews need not convert

religion | May 12, 2009 | By Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen

On the occasion of your visit to Israel I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you, our most honorable guest, Pope Benedict XVI.

I see in your visit to the Holy Land a declaration that you intend to continue a policy and doctrine that refers to my people as "Our Older Brothers" and "God's Chosen People," with whom He entered into an everlasting covenant.

We deeply appreciate this declaration. There is a long, hard and painful history of the relationship between our people, our faith, and the Catholic Church leadership and followers - a history of blood and tears. It is difficult to speak of this relationship without recalling the centuries of persecution of Jews by the Church.

But a new era was ushered in with the cancellation of the replacement theory. In the Second Vatican Council and the Nostra Aetate document, it was made clear that no efforts would be made by the Catholic Church to convert Jews. Rather, the Jewish people should continue the faith of its forefathers as expressed in the Bible and rabbinic literature.

The Jewish people remain a people of God's covenant, a people chosen by God to give the world the Bible.

Put simply, the Catholic Church accepted the theological principle that Jews need not change their religion to merit redemption. I hope you will take the opportunity during your visit in Israel to reiterate this fact.

In our meeting last month in Rome, you assured me that no one who engages in Holocaust denial can be a member of the Church. You also spoke of how, in Catholic educational institutes across the globe, anti-Semitism would be presented as a crime against God and against man and that Holocaust denial would be denounced.

I do hope now to get your help as a religious leader - 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 its enemies.

I am sure that you will use this trip to reiterate these points in public and show your sincerity at a time when media exposure is high and the eyes of the world are upon you. God has given you a unique opportunity.

May I conclude by praying with the famous words taken from the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah, regarding the days to come: "And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them... They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters over the sea." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

May we be blessed to have it happen in our own days. Amen!

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen is chief rabbi of Haifa and co-chairman of the Bilateral Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See.

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