Israeli Rabbis Ask Pope to Establish Day of Dialogue With Jews

In Association with Celebrations of the "Year of Maimonides"

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ROME, JAN. 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The chief rabbis of Israel expressed to John Paul II their desire that Catholics worldwide hold a Day of Dialogue with the Jews.



Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar also suggested to the Pope that he associate himself with a significant gesture to the "Year of Maimonides," the Jewish philosopher and theologian of Cordoba, Spain, who lived from 1135 to 1204.

The rabbis disclosed their requests to the Holy Father during a press conference held Friday in the Hall of the Council of the Great Synagogue of Rome, following their 35-minute meeting with the Pontiff.

The Day of Dialogue with the Jews has been observed in Italy for years; it was held last Saturday, on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. On the Day of Dialogue, Jews and Catholics meet for conferences, visits to synagogues, or gatherings to get to know one another better.

The rabbis expressed the wish that, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the death of the great philosopher and theologian Moses Maimonides, the Holy See loan some of the philosopher's precious manuscripts that are kept in the Vatican Library, so that they can be exhibited in Israel.

Maimonides, who formulated the "Thirteen Articles of Faith," one of the diverse creeds to which numerous Orthodox Jews still adhere to today, is acknowledged as the most important Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages.

In "Guide of the Perplexed," written around 1190, Maimonides tries to harmonize faith and reason, reconciling dogmas of rabbinic Judaism with the rationalism of Aristotelian philosophy in its Arabic version, which includes Neoplatonic elements.

This work, in which Maimonides considers the nature of God and creation, free will, and the problem of good and evil, had great influence on Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great.

The rabbis also asked the Pope to donate an object of Jewish worship that the Church possesses. They said they left it up to the Pope to decide which one to donate.

During the audience, the rabbis spoke with the Holy Father in modern Hebrew. The interpreter to Italian was Obed Ben-Hur, the ambassador of Israel to the Holy See. They were accompanied in the audience by Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni of Rome.

During the press conference after the audience, the rabbis described the "cordial" and "friendly" character of the meeting. Rabbi Metzger said that the Pope paid close attention to everything that was said and was very warm when receiving his guests.

Rabbi Amar added the meeting had helped to increase "hope in reconciliation and fraternity between the two religions," as well as the "intensification of relations," emphasizing that the Pope and his collaborators have used strong words in the past to condemn anti-Semitism.

On the occasion of the 18th anniversary of John Paul II's visit to the synagogue of Rome, Rabbi Metzger renewed his invitation to the Holy Father to visit Jerusalem and recalled that this year is the 10th anniversary of the "fundamental agreement" between the Holy See and the state of Israel.

For Rabbi Amar, the greatest difficulty between individuals and communities is "the lack of communication," the impossibility to "understand or to "listen" to the other, so that each one remains fixed in his own position. "We must talk," the rabbi stressed.

The minute there is sincere talk, there is "a seed, the beginning of hope," he added. Interreligious meetings can "overcome the difficulties that emerge at the political level."

Rabbi Metzger revealed that during the papal audience they touched upon the subject of the struggle against anti-Semitism and terrorism.

"Yesterday they persecuted us because we didn't have a state and today because we have one," the rabbi said. He also said that he has appealed to Muslim religious leaders to halt the increase of terrorism that is waged under religious pretexts.

We are all "children of Abraham," Rabbi Metzger continued. It is impossible that "this Father be happy to see that brothers kill one another."

"Enough blood has been spilled!" he said.

It is important to sit around a table again to talk, Rabbi Amar insisted, as the solution starts when there is dialogue.

What is needed is patience and tolerance to build bridges that lead to dialogue and allow one to "hear the wisdom of others," when each one "thinks he is right," the rabbi said. "If we all had this attitude, the world would already be different."