‘Blood Libel Never a Church Teaching,’ Says Prominent US Catholic Academic, as Defenders of Antisemitic Italian Painting Come Forward

April 1, 2020

[Published in The Algemeiner]

The Italian Catholic painter whose artistic rendering of a medieval blood libel caused a storm of protest in the Jewish community last week is winning over some supporters notwithstanding.

An editorial published on Wednesday in the Italian newspaper L’Quotidiano Italiano praised artist Giovanni Gasparro’s creation — titled “The Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento by Jewish Ritual Murder” — as “objectively a masterpiece.”

The paper, which serves the Adriatic port city of Bari where Gasparro resides, described the painter as an “internationally-renowned artist,” noting as well that “ecclesiastical bodies” of the Catholic Church were among those who had purchased Gasparro’s works in the past.

Critically, the editorial defended the historical veracity of the blood libel episode depicted in Gasparro’s painting — which features stereotypically-lurid Jewish characters crowding around a terrified infant as they drain his blood.

In March 1475, the discovery of the body of a missing child named Simon in the Italian city of Trento, supposedly in the cellar of a local Jew, led to the entire Jewish community being charged with the “blood libel” — the false accusation that Jews used the blood of Christian children for religious rituals. The result was an anti-Jewish frenzy in which Jewish men, women and children alike were tortured and beaten, and the leaders of the community burned at the stake following a show trial.

But as one leading American Catholic academic pointed out in an extensive interview on Wednesday, unlike the long-ago spurned charge of “deicide” — collective Jewish responsibility for the execution of Jesus by the Roman authorities — historically the 900-year-old blood libel was never endorsed by Catholic teachings.

“This particular accusation of Jews killing Christian children was never a church teaching or doctrine, and was rejected even by Popes during the medieval period,” Prof. Philip Cunningham — director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — told The Algemeiner. (more…)

Truth, Faith, and the Opening of the Vatican Archives

February 28, 2020
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, February 29, 2020, p. 1.]

Documents related to the Second World War

by Abraham Skorka

Emet and Emunah, truth and faith, have the same three Hebrew letters at their root (alef – mem – nun), from which derive other Hebrew words that refer to security, stability, power and trust (omnah, meheiman, etc). In Psalms 31:6[5] we read: “Into Your hands I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth”. Rabbi Ḥanina, one of the Talmudic sages, said: “The Seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is Truth” (b. Yoma 69b). Truth is used in many places in Jewish sacred literature to define a primary characteristic of God. And truth is also what God requires from human beings, as was declared by the prophet Zechariah (8:16): “Speak the truth to one another”. Maimonides likewise holds up Abraham as a model in searching for truth when he rejected the paganism of his own society and began serving the One True God (Yad, Avodat Kokhavim 1). In the Jewish tradition, therefore, the knowledge of truth is crucial to all aspects of life—scientific, ethical, and existential. It is essential for the growth of faith.

I recalled these concepts recently when reading of the opening in early March of the historical archives of the Holy See for the World War II period. This, in turn, reminded me of something Pope Francis has written: “[We] need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward. Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves” (Lumen Fidei, 24).

Unsurprisingly, then, Jewish and Christian perspectives converge on seeing truth as paramount. (more…)

Interfaith leaders greet Archbishop Perez with warmth, hope

February 21, 2020


by Gina Christian


Archbishop Nelson Perez has been welcomed by several of Philadelphia’s interfaith leaders who attended his Feb. 18 Mass of installation.

“I’m glad that Archbishop Perez has already extended a warm hand to me,” said Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, the city’s director for faith-based and interfaith affairs.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka greets newly installed Archbishop Nelson Perez during a Feb. 18 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. (Photo by Sarah Webb)

An adjunct professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, Rev. Washington-Leapheart said that she’s “excited to explore” potential partnership opportunities, especially since Philadelphia’s new shepherd “has already done some important work, particularly in terms of engagement with Latino communities and college students.”

Also in attendance was Elder Vai Sikahema of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose Philadelphia temple is located across the street from the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, as well as Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a visiting scholar at the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) of St. Joseph’s University.


Rabbi Skorka promotes interfaith dialogue on campus – The Hawk Newspaper

February 12, 2020
From The Hawk. Written by Eddie Daou ’22.


Skorka held a two part series on interfaith relations. [Photo: Mitchell Shields ’22/THE HAWK]

Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Ph.D., visiting professor of theology, has fostered ongoing conversations about interfaith relationships through his close friendship with Pope Francis. Skorka has worked to promote a deeper understanding between Catholics and Jews at St. Joe’s through research and on-campus events.

Skorka served as the rector and professor of biblical and rabbinic literature at the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires, where he first met Pope Francis in 1997.

“The friendship developed because both of us felt that we have a mission to continue ahead with the dialogue that our ancestors began working on years ago,” Skorka said. “One recognized in the other a very good partner to do that.”

Skorka said his relationship with Pope Francis is not based on trying to convince the other of their personal beliefs, but to open up a dialogue between their faiths to help fix global issues and problems affecting members of both religions. (more…)

Local scholars say Jews, Catholics have chance for ‘profound friendship’

February 5, 2020
By Gina Christian • Posted February 5, 2020


Despite rising antisemitism throughout the world, Catholics and Jews are living in “a remarkable new age” in which they can both grow by understanding their differences more fully.

Pope Francis embraces Rabbi Abraham Skorka during a brief stop at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Sept. 27, 2015. Skorka, a longtime friend of the pope, said in a Jan. 27 presentation at the university that “a new hope has been born” for Jewish-Christian relations after centuries of persecution and misunderstanding. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

That’s according to Professor Philip Cunningham, co-director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) of St. Joseph’s University. Founded in 1967, the IJCR is the oldest university center of its kind in the U.S. created in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for increased interfaith dialogue.

On Jan. 27, the IJCR hosted the first of a two-part series on “Jewish Views of the Religious ‘Other.’” Some 80 attendees listened as IJCR visiting scholar Rabbi Abraham Skorka – a longtime collaborator and friend of Pope Francis – traced “the 2,000 years of shared history” between Jews and Christians, while reflecting on key theological developments in both faiths.


Auschwitz anniversary reminds that anti-Semitism still present

January 27, 2020

By Gina Christian

On the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, scholars at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia are stressing that more needs to be done to end antisemitism — and to prevent the systematic murder of 6 million Jews from being forgotten.

(Related: Remembering the Holocaust is ‘a duty,’ Pope says)

“The story must be presented in its details, together with why it is important to remember it,” said Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a visiting academic at the university’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) and a close collaborator with fellow Argentinian native Pope Francis. Founded in 1967, the IJCR is the oldest university center of its kind in the U.S. created in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for increased interfaith dialogue. (more…)

Interfaith Expert to Discuss Jewish Perspectives of Other Faiths

January 23, 2020
SJU Office of Communications

Rabbi Abraham Skorka , a renowned scholar on interreligious dialogue and co-author with Pope Francis of On Heaven and Earth, will present a pair of discussions on Jewish views of other religions this spring. Skorka, a University professor and visiting scholar with the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University, will begin the series by considering Jewish perspectives on Christianity on Monday, Jan. 27. A second event, focusing on Jewish views of Islam, is scheduled for Feb. 10.

Since joining Saint Joseph’s in the fall of 2018, Rabbi Skorka served for almost 20 years as the rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During his time as rector, he hosted a series of televised discussions with the future Pope, then the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, on their views of each other’s faiths and how each applied to modern issues. The talks were later edited into On Heaven and Earth, which recently marked 10 years of publication. (more…)

L’Osservatore Romano: “A Hope of Peace”

December 22, 2019

By Abraham Skorka

[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, December 22, 2019, p. 7.]

Marc Chagall, “The Garden of Eden”

A look back at our human history confronts us, on the one hand, with many fabulous scientific and technical achievements and, on the other hand, with voracious self-destruction. The same genius that discovers and creates often seems unable to master its own harmful impulses.

The Book of Genesis describes how God blessed humanity to multiply and dominate the earth (1:28). But God went on to set a limit to remind human beings that they do not have absolute power over the created world. It was a very simple limit: to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some Midrashic sages (Bereshit Rabbah 15:7) claimed that this fruit was a mere fig, while others proposed various other fruits. This diversity of opinion suggests that the narrative’s prohibition is more symbolic than literal. It is perhaps in the words of the serpent’s temptation that the deeper meaning of the prohibition is revealed. By eating that fruit, the serpent says, “you will be like gods, connoisseurs of good and evil” (3:5). The elimination of God’s presence from human reality, and substituting human beings who know good and evil for God, and are thus supposedly able to act without limit or restraint, is the temptation to which the archetypal human beings succumbed by transgressing the only rule that God had given. (more…)

Video: Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka: “Hanukkah, Christmas and the State of the World”

December 11, 2019

In November 2019, Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka (University Professor at Saint Joseph’s University) discussed the significance of the upcoming Hanukkah and Christmas seasons. They spoke of recent outbursts of prejudice and violence in many countries, including antisemitic attacks and hostility toward migrants, as incompatible with the vision of religious freedom and universal peace of the two holydays. Rabbi Skorka has written a short article about the discussion HERE. See below for the video; the conversation is underway as the video begins …


Video: Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka on the 10th Anniversary of Their Book

November 19, 2019

Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka recall the publication of On Heaven and Earth


In this recently recorded video, Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka reminisce about their many conversations that occurred in Buenos Aires in 2009-2010. At the time, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and Rabbi Skorka, rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, decided to assemble their dialogues into a book. It was later published in English as On Heaven and Earth.

As they now discuss their book, their warm friendship and rapport is obvious. Rabbi Skorka, currently University Professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, notes how the book, translated into many languages, has become a model for interreligious dialogue around the world. Pope Francis observes that, once published, a book takes on a life of its own. He goes on to call for more and more theological dialogue between Jews and Christians.