Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Rabbi, in Full

It wasn't included in the Holy See's Synod Bulletins, but Monday's fulltext from Shear Yashuv Cohen, the grand rabbi of Haifa and first Jewish cleric to address a Synod of Bishops, has surfaced.

It is indeed a privilege and a rare honor to be invited to this Assembly as a special guest, representing the Jewish Faith and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. I believe this is the first time a Jewish Rabbi is invited to address a plenary session of the Synod of Bishops. We certainly very much appreciate what this gesture implies. 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. I deeply feel that my standing here before you is very meaningful. It brings with it a signal of hope and a message of love, co-existence, and peace for our generation, and for generations to come.

Indeed, this continues the approach, initiated by the late Pope John XXIII that reached a climax in the life and work of the late Pope John Paul the II -- during his historic visit to the Holy Land. We see in your invitation to me, to lecture here today, a declaration that you intend to continue this policy and doctrine that refers to us as “Our Older Brothers” and “G-d’s Chosen People," with whom He entered into an everlasting covenant. We deeply appreciate this declaration.

May I add that, personally, my friends, leaders and members of the Catholic community of Saint Edigio introduced me to this new Ecumenical spirit? I have had the privilege of participating regularly in their International Meetings inspired by the spirit of the famous prayer of Asissi. Also, for the past several years, I serve as the co-chairman of the Bilateral Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See that is doing wonderful work.

I thank G-d that has kept us alive to be together and work for a future of peace and co-existence, the world over, Amen....

When we speak of the Holy Scriptures we refer to The Tanach that is composed of the Torah, i.e., the Five Books of Moses, the Nevi’im -- the texts of the Prophets -- and the Ketuvim -- the Additional Holy Writings, the Hagiographa. All of them are the source and inspiration of our prayers and our service of G-d. Every one of us, learned and laity alike, are enjoined to study them, understand them, and cherish them in their heart and mind, and appreciate their perpetual value and relevance to all times.

This description of how central are The Holy Scriptures in our tradition, will certainly not be complete without my describing in some detail how not only the Readings from the Torah, The Prophets and the Writings are a central part of our Service, but further that our prayers are also built around quotations from the Bible.

We pray to G-d using His own words, as related to us in the Scriptures. Likewise, we praise Him -- also using His own words from the Bible. We ask for His mercy -- mentioning what He has promised to our ancestors and to us. Our entire Service is based upon an ancient rule, as related to us by our Rabbis and Teachers: [Hebrew text] -- “Give Him of what is His, because you and yours are His”.

We believe that prayer is the language of the soul in its communion with G-d. We believe sincerely that our soul is His, given to us by Him. Every morning when we awaken, we say, or should I say, pray to Him in words of thanksgiving: “I thank You living and eternal King for giving me back my soul in mercy, great is Your faithfulness”....

I could go on for hours, describing how the Jewish Prayer Book, the Siddur -- that is the Hebrew word for “The Order” -- is built around the Holy Scriptures, without losing the personal and emotional nature of the praying experience, the wonder of praise of the L—d, the joy of thanksgiving, the experience of the feeling of a broken heart -- yearning for forgiveness and atonement.

I should add that not only the Rabbi or the Cantor say the prayers. Every worshipper, each congregant, young and old -- is expected to recite them -- whether reading from the Prayer Book, or knowing them by heart. Thus, the many quotations from the Holy Bible become part of the core personality of he who prays, an integral part of his Heritage.

Every child is taught the Bible from their early childhood. I was taught the Tanach by my own late father, the famous Rabbi -- the Nazir of Jerusalem and learnt it by heart. In every religious school, the teaching of the Bible is a significant part of the compulsory curriculum.

May I add that we, the Rabbis, when we address issues of concern in our Sermons, such as: “The Sanctity of Life”, “Fighting Promiscuity”, “Fighting Secularism”, Promoting the values of Brotherhood and Fraternity, Love and Peace, Equality, and Respect for the “Other and the Different”, we always try to build our address around Biblical quotations, as interpreted by our holy sages, through the generations. Our point of departure stems from the treasures of our Religious Tradition, even while we endeavor to speak in a modern and contemporary language and address present issues. It is amazing to observe how The Holy Scriptures never lose their vitality and relevance to present issues of our time and age. This is the miracle of the everlasting and perpetual “Word of G-d”.
Last month on his trip to France, B16 told the Jewish community of Paris that, "in the eternal covenant of the Almighty," the church "repeats forcefully, through my voice, the words of the great Pope Pius XI, my venerated predecessor: 'Spiritually, we are Semites.'"

In that light, as our elder brethren begin their most sacred observance -- the day of atonement (and complete 25-hour fast) Yom Kippur -- at sundown tonight, a Gut Yontif to one and all.

PHOTO: Reuters