Wednesday, September 24, 2008

At the Synod, "a Sign of Hope"

In a first, next month's Synod of Bishops on the Word will be addressed by a rabbi; calling his invitation "a signal of hope," Chief Rabbi of Haifa Shear-Yashuv Cohen will lead a daylong discussion of the Hebrew scriptures in the Aula on 7 October, just before the Jewish calendar's most-sacred observance: the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
"(The invitation) brings with it a message of love, coexistence and peace for generations," Rabbi Cohen told Catholic News Service in an interview in his Jerusalem office in late September. "We see in (the) invitation a kind of declaration that (the church) intends to continue with the policy and doctrine established by Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and we appreciate very deeply this declaration."

Despite the history of violence and bloodshed from the Christian world, said Rabbi Cohen, the invitation can also be seen as a declaration of "respect and coexistence with Judaism as the older brother of Christianity."

He said he actually felt a bit of trepidation in accepting the invitation because some rabbinical leaders feel that interreligious dialogue is simply another way of trying to convince Jews to become Christians, and some Jewish leaders opposed his addressing the synod.

"There is an extreme group that is afraid and who say that, since (Christians) didn't succeed by force to convert us, they are trying now to do it by talking; they call it the kiss of death," said Rabbi Cohen. "If they are right, I am making a mistake, but I believe that is not the situation."

The rabbi said he sees the invitation as a partial fulfillment of an ancient daily prayer that seeks a day when all people will join together to worship God.

Rabbi Cohen noted Christianity, Islam and Judaism are Abrahamic faiths that believe in one God.

"You can't deny the fact that, despite the difference in opinion, the roots are the same. They start from Abraham, and we can call these three religions the Abrahamic faiths. We all continue the sanctity and loyalty to the Bible," he said.

Rabbi Cohen -- the 18th generation of a family of rabbis and biblical scholars -- said he will speak to the synod about the centrality of the Jewish Scripture in Jewish tradition and daily life and the importance of it in the education of every Jewish child, as well as its importance to Israel. He gave the example of a yearly Bible quiz, which is broadcast nationally and whose winners are congratulated by the Israeli president.

"I believe that is what should be copied by all nations of the world. They should learn the Bible and know it and be inspired by it," he said.

He said he was able to recite almost the entire Torah -- the first five books of the Bible -- by the time he was 8 years old.
Of course, our elder brethren welcome a new year -- 5769 -- at Rosh Hashanah, which begins next Tuesday at sundown.

In that light, an early l'shanah tovah to one and all... and no better time for a hymn from everyone's favorite Hasidic rapper:

PHOTO: AP/Diether Endlicher