January 19, 2010

Benedict at the Synagogue

And to think that even the day chosen for the visit, was not that smooth. In fact, first of all, for Roman Jews January 17 is the day in which they commemorate the fire that, back in 1793, was ignited in their ghetto out of hatred—the so-called “Moed di piombo,” with the fire timely extinguished by a violent rainstorm that fell out of a “lead” (“piombo”) colored sky.

In the second place, January 17 is also, in Italy, the “Day for the exploration and development of dialogue between Catholics and Jews,” but last year the Jews retracted their participation in the day, above all at the urging of Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, of the Jewish community of Milan, blaming Benedict XVI and his decision to introduce into the ancient Roman rite for Good Friday the prayer that God “may enlighten” the hearts of the Jews, “that they may recognize Jesus Christ as Savior of all men.”

And yet, in spite of all this, Benedict XVI’s visit to the Synagogue of Rome has been a success, or as Mordechay Lewy—Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See—put it, “a help in the fight against anti-Semitism” and “a pleasant surprise.” In turn, the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, had words of hope about Jews and Christians being “brothers:”

The narrative of Sefer Bereshit, Genesis, gives us some precious suggestions for understanding. As Rabbi Sachs explains, from the beginning to the end of the book, there is leitmotif tying together the different stories. The relationship between brothers starts out badly, with Cain killing Abel. Another pair of brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, live separated, the victims of an inherited rivalry, but are united in their gesture of compassion when they bury their father Abraham. A third pair of brothers, Esau and Jacob, have an equally conflicting relationship, they meet for a brief reconciliation and an embrace and then their roads separate. Finally, there is the story of Joseph and his brothers, which begins dramatically with an attempted murder and sale into slavery but is resolved with a final reconciliation when Joseph’s brothers admit their error and give proof of their willingness to sacrifice themselves one for the other. If ours is a relationship of brothers, we should ask ourselves quite sincerely what point of this journey we have reached, and how far we still have to travel before we recover an authentic relationship of brotherhood and understanding, and what we have to do to achieve this.

And here is what pope Benedict XVI had to say (full text of the speech in the Synagogue of Rome at www.chiesa website. In addition, an introductory article by Sandro Magister). Read also the speech addressed to the pope in the synagogue by the president of the Jewish community of Rome, Riccardo Pacifici, and that of the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni.