Roman Rabbi Gives His Take on World Tensions

Justice Doesn´t Necessarily Mean War, Says Elio Toaff

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ROME, OCT. 21, 2001 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- Elio Toaff gives pride of place in his office to a photograph of the moment when he received John Paul II in his synagogue.



The 86-year-old Toaff, who recently presented his resignation as chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Rome, arrived in this city 50 years ago, having just lived through the horrors of World War II. Now, he is leaving his post with the specter of another war looming large.

--Q: Did you imagine there would be another war?

--Rabbi Toaff: I never thought something like this could happen. Of course, every terrorist act must be answered with the determination to restore justice and punish the culprits, and all this leads to unrest in society.

--Q: How can justice be carried out?

--Rabbi Toaff: Only by identifying those who are responsible and punishing them severely because it implies the death of thousands of innocent people.

--Q: However, in a certain sense, when the culprits involve a nation, justice might also mean war.

--Rabbi Toaff: Not necessarily, because if in that nation there are individuals and authorities who can carry out justice by stopping the terrorist movement, there is no need for war, but of police service for the benefit of all, if they remove individuals from circulation who cause serious damage to society.

Such a nation, if it is civilized and well organized, must be able to isolate and punish those who go against moral laws and ideals born from civilization and religion.

--Q: It has been said that there can be no peace in the world until there is peace in Jerusalem but, according to the Arabs, it is precisely Israel that doesn´t want it.

--Rabbi Toaff: Everyone says what suits him. If you speak with the Israelis, you will hear exactly the opposite. The issue must not be resolved with terrorism or with a more or less open struggle, but by sitting at the same table and discussing.

Every problem must be solved peacefully. While there are actions of war, nothing positive will be achieved, because for every action there is a reaction, often even greater.

--Q: Did John Paul II´s visit to your synagogue, the first of a Pope since the first century, also serve to surmount the barriers between the two religions in other parts of the world?

--Rabbi Toaff: We can never speak absolutely. We dialogue in everyday life. There can be great consensus, but there is always someone who is opposed.

This Pope has traveled to Jerusalem, he has stood before the Wailing Wall and remained there in prayer. These are signs that have impressed, in a very positive way, the whole Jewish community in the world.

Dialogue is incipient but we will never have total consensus, either on one side or the other. From my point of view, this dialogue remains as a gesture of civilization that enters the spirit of the Church and Judaism, which seek a meeting, not disputation.