Yom Kippur prompts all to examine conscience, love neighbor, says local Catholic scholar

September 16, 2021


by Gina Christian


Judaism’s Day of Atonement is a reminder to all that “humanity has a collective responsibility for each other,” said a local expert on Jewish-Catholic relations.

Yom Kippur, celebrated Sept. 16 this year, is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, marking a time of profound prayer, fasting and repentance.

Along with Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish year, the ancient observance — believed to originate from the time of Moses – is part of the Yamim Noraim, or “Days of Awe.”

During Yom Kippur, Jews typically abstain from food, drink and marital relations, as well as the application of lotions or creams and the use of leather footwear. Synagogues conduct five prayer services throughout the day, beginning on the eve of Yom Kippur, which features the Kol Nidre and the Shema, two of the most well-known Jewish prayers.

Psalms, Leviticus and Jonah are among the observance’s prominent Scriptures. Yom Kippur concludes at sunset with the Neilah, or “closing of the dates” service, followed by a shofar blast that marks the end of the fast.

From a Catholic perspective, Yom Kippur is a kind of “examination of conscience” that is performed “both individually and communally,” said Philip Cunningham, co-director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) at Saint 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.


Why Pope Francis’ comments on the Torah were hurtful to his Jewish friends

September 8, 2021



[The message of SJU’s sculpture “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” is discussed midway through the following:]

The danger of speaking in public: People will hear you. And take you seriously. And remember what you said.

This past August, Pope Francis made a statement that some have characterized as causing the greatest tension in the relationship between the church and the Jewish people since the beginning of his pontificate. The pope offered a reflection on Paul’s teaching about “Torah,” a word often—incorrectly—translated as law. Early in his remarks, the pope said, “God offered them [the Jewish people] the Torah, the Law, so they could understand his will and live in justice. We have to think that at that time, a Law like this was necessary, it was a tremendous gift that God gave his people.”

To that point there was nothing the pope said that could be considered offensive. However, later in his teaching he asserted, “The Law, however, does not give life, it does not offer the fulfillment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfill it. The Law is a journey, a journey that leads toward an encounter… Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfillment in Christ.”

When Pope Francis’ remarks became known, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel felt called on to write the Vatican Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews asking for clarification. The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which is designated as the Jewish world’s official interlocutor with the Vatican, quickly sent a letter expressing grave concern about the pope’s words. Jews engaged in dialogue with the church expressed profound, personal dismay.


Jewish holidays have themes familiar to Christians, say local scholars

September 6, 2021



by Gina Christian

Christians can find many familiar elements in the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, said two local scholars.

Rosh Hashanah — which began this year on Monday evening and concludes at sunset on Sept. 8 — marks the Jewish New Year (now 5782), commemorating the creation of both the universe and Adam and Eve.

Along with Yom Kippur (the “Day of Atonement”), Rosh Hashanah is part of the Yamim Noraim, or “Days of Awe.”

And while “the Catholic liturgical year does not have an exact cognate” with the annual series of observances, the holy days’ “themes of self-examination, making amends and being dedicated to God’s vision for the future are familiar to Christians as well,” said Philip Cunningham, co-director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) at Saint 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.

IJCR co-director Adam Gregerman said Rosh Hashanah is “a holiday of renewal and beginning,” but also “a time when one looks back, taking stock of one’s actions in the past year and, if necessary, making amends to those one has wronged and committing oneself to moral and spiritual improvement.”


Israeli rabbis ask pope to clarify remarks on Jewish law

August 25, 2021



VATICAN CITY, Aug 25 (Reuters) – Israel’s top Jewish religious authorities have told the Vatican they are concerned about comments that Pope Francis made about their books of sacred law and have asked for a clarification.

In a letter seen by Reuters, Rabbi Rasson Arousi, chair of the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for Dialogue with the Holy See, said the comments appeared to suggest Jewish law was obsolete.

Vatican authorities said they were studying the letter and were considering a response.

Rabbi Arousi wrote a day after the pope spoke about the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, during a general audience on Aug. 11.

The Torah contains hundreds of commandments, or mitzvot, for Jews to follow in their everyday lives. The measure of adherence to the wide array of guidelines differs between Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews.

At the audience, the pope, who was reflecting on what St. Paul said about the Torah in the New Testament, said: “The law (Torah) however does not give life.

“It does not offer the fulfilment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfil it … Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfilment in Christ.”

Rabbi Arousi sent the letter on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate – the supreme rabbinic authority for Judaism in Israel – to Cardinal Kurt Koch, whose Vatican department includes a commission for religious relations with Jews.

“In his homily, the pope presents the Christian faith as not just superseding the Torah; but asserts that the latter no longer gives life, implying that Jewish religious practice in the present era is rendered obsolete,” Arousi said in the letter.

“This is in effect part and parcel of the ‘teaching of contempt’ towards Jews and Judaism that we had thought had been fully repudiated by the Church,” he said.


Dr. Philip Cunningham Named Honorary ICCJ President

June 27, 2021

During the 2021 Annual General Meeting of ICCJ’s member organizations, held virtually on June 27, 2021, the outgoing ICCJ President Bo Sandahl announced the appointment of Dr. Philip A. Cunningham as ICCJ Honorary President.

Phil Cunningham is one of the leading Catholic scholars and theologians today, with regard to the Christian-Jewish relationship. He has written widely and profoundly on the subject.  Recognizing him as a master craftsman with words, the ICCJ has used his talents to craft several important statements, such as the 2009 Berlin Document, “A Time for Recommitment;” ”Let Us Have Mercy on Words,” a 2010 response to the Palestinian Kairos Document; the 2013 document on the Middle East conflict, called, “As long as you believe in a living God, you must have hope,” and many more. The recent book, Enabling Dialogue on the Land, which was published in 2020, was the product of a research project spearheaded by Phil, called “Promise, Land and Hope.”


U.S. Catholic Bishops Denounce Wave of Antisemitic Assaults

May 28, 2021

With the recent upsurge in antisemitic incidents, including violence, across the country, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis, chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, issued the following statement on May 26, 2021. It reiterates the bishops’ constant call for American Catholics to promote a culture that rejects all forms of hatred.

In keeping with the Jesuit and Catholic mission of Saint Joseph’s University, from which flows the mission of its Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, both the University and the Institute join in the bishops’ appeal for interreligious solidarity. In the words of Pope Francis, “May the Lord help us to extinguish the outbreaks of hatred that develop in our societies, strengthening the sense of humanity, respect for life, moral and civil values, and the holy fear of God, who is Love and Father of all.”


Words, Weapons, and the Ways of Peace

May 19, 2021

[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, May 19, 2021, p. 3.]

by Abraham Skorka

On April 15, a particularly important meeting organized by the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations took place in Geneva. It gathered representatives of international and religious institutions, together with high-ranking Vatican dignitaries, to study the implications of the latest encyclical by Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. The participants considered it to be an exceptional document, a desperate appeal to all humankind in difficult times, including a devastating pandemic.

When reading the encyclical for the first time, I found myself hoping that its spirit and vision would become a reality in the world, that it would sensitize powerful leaders, whose decisions affect the destinies of billions of people scattered around the globe, to the real needs of human beings and of the planet.

The central focus of the encyclical is the need to care for the world and to inspire its inhabitants to love one another. This is, of course, a defining vision that is found in many verses of the Hebrew Bible shared by Jews and Christians. The encyclical considers these overarching needs in the context of the global pandemic as well as the violent outbursts that set people against one another in various places.

In these days we are witnessing a new conflict in the Middle East, in which bombs and missiles silence words of peace and reconciliation. Who will give life to those who are slain? Who will give back the joy of living to families who lose their loved ones? (more…)

“Refuse to turn away” from terrors of genocide, say local scholars

April 9, 2021




by Gina Christian

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a call to “refuse to turn our eyes away from (the) terrors” of genocide, said scholars from the Institute of Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR) at Saint 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.

The institute’s directors, professors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman, recently reflected on the annual commemoration, which fell this year on April 8.

Also known as Yom Hashoah, the observance corresponds to the dates of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an April-May 1943 armed resistance by Jews to the Nazi regime.

Ghettos, segregated sectors within the Polish capital and in several other Nazi-occupied cities, were created as part of a systematic program to annihilate the European Jewish population, six million of whom were ultimately slaughtered in the Shoah, the preferred Hebrew term for the Holocaust. (more…)

Passover and Easter: Freedom and Responsibility

March 30, 2021
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 2, 2021, pp. 1 and 7.]

by Abraham Skorka

The great lesson of the biblical account of the liberation and exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt centers on the concept of freedom. There is a biblical verse that clearly defines it. At the end of his days, Moses summons the younger generation to renew the covenant with God that had been made by their ancestors. As presented in the Book of Deuteronomy, his listeners were the people who were to overcome Canaan, settle there, and establish a society in which the rules and laws they had received in the desert should be implemented. They were a generation who had been born in freedom and who, unlike their parents, had not been traumatized by enslavement. Moses admonishes them to fulfill the precepts that God had commanded them, proclaiming very significantly that they have become the people of the One and Only God, who maintains covenantal fidelity with those who love God and keep the commandments of God (Deuteronomy 27:9). Freedom is not merely leaving the condition of enslavement. This is necessary but is insufficient for a fully dignified existence. There must also be a commitment to transcendent values ​​that enable former slaves from remaining enslaved to their own passions and selfishness.

These values include serving God by caring for Creation and by respecting and loving the other human beings with whom life is shared. The covenanted people must also not idolize the deified projections of human instincts, or consecrate themselves to the ways of deified human dictators such as Pharaoh or Caesar or the despots of the last century or today. This is the challenge presented by God to those freed from the Egyptian yoke.

Among other commands, Chapter 25 of Leviticus presents laws about how resources and goods should be distributed in ancient Israel. Ownership of the ancestral family land had to preserved. When someone fell into poverty and had to serve another for their livelihood, his relatives and friends had to rescue him from such a situation. The basis for all such laws is found in the last verse of the chapter: “Because the Children of Israel are servants to Me, My servants whom I have freed from the land out of Egypt. I the Lord am your God.” (more…)

Passover invites Christians to recognize their Jewish roots

March 27, 2021



by Gina Christian

Passover invites Christians to recognize Jesus’ Jewishness, and their own “close kinship with Jesus’ Jewish brothers and sisters.”

That’s according to professors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman, who co-direct the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint 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.

Celebrated each spring, the Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the divine liberation of the ancient Israelites from enslavement in Egypt, as recounted in the book of Exodus. For eight days (seven in Israel), Jews abstain from food or drink with leavened grain, while gathering at their homes for one to two seders, or ritual meals.

Following a traditional sequence set down by Jewish rabbis in the fifth and sixth centuries, the seder (from the Hebrew word for “order”) recalls the events of the Israelites’ captivity and deliverance through symbolic foods, wine, Scriptural passages, prayers and songs.