10/07/2008, 00.00
VATICAN
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Synod: speech by chief rabbi of Haifa still raising discussion

Israeli newspapers highlight his presence in front of the bishops of the whole world, and emphasize his words about Ahmadinejad and Pius XII. The fathers today expressed their appreciation for his remarks about the role of the Scriptures in the life of the Jewish people.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - In the presence of the pope, the synod of bishops has begun its first day of discussions, centered on the remarks made yesterday by the relator, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, but attention is still centered today on the address by Shear-Yishuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa, the first Jew and the first non-Christian to speak before a Catholic synod (in the photo). His address was appreciated by the "fathers," who today are discussing the problem of biblical "literacy," since many parts of the world still do not have the ability to consult the Bible. It is an area in which the use of the new means of communication is also seen as necessary. Another main topic for the fathers is the homily. The address about this yesterday lamented that the homily is often lacking in effectiveness.

The attention of the Israeli newspapers is, instead, entirely focused on the remarks of the chief rabbi of Haifa, with particular attention to his words about Pius XII and Ahmadinejad. Yedioth Ahronoth highlights the fact that he is the first Jew to address the synod, but also the affirmation that if he had known about the coinciding of the date with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pacelli, he would not have spoken. The Jerusalem Post contains both positive and negative comments about his presence. Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, is in favor, but the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo di Segni, laments Cohen's failure to consult with the Roman community, which lives in a "delicate relationship" with the Catholic Church.

The rabbi delivered an address on the place of sacred Scripture in the Jewish tradition. This "is at the center, even in a physical sense, of Jewish rituals and in the very lives of people. Starting when they are very young, children are introduced to the study of the sacred Scriptures, which they often learn by heart." Cohen situated his presence at the Vatican "in continuity with the work begun by John XXIII, which reached its culmination in the life and work of John Paul I died." But at the end of his address, he made reference to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - without mentioning him by name - and to his threats against the Jews. "I cannot conclude my address," he said, "without expressing my profound distress over the terrible and reckless words of the president of a certain state in the Middle East, in his speech last month to the general assembly of the United Nations." The rabbi also asked for the help of "religious leaders, and I hope of the entire world, to protect, defend, and save Israel." Immediately after this, speaking off the cuff, he added: "what happened once must never happen again; my being here with you makes me feel that we can count on your help, and that the authoritative nature of your message will be received by all the influential people of the world."

But the rabbi said nothing to the fathers about Pius XII. It was outside of the synod, speaking with the journalists, that he expressed opposition to the idea of beatifying Pope Pacelli. "We believe that he should not be beatified, or taken as a model, because he did not raise his voice, although he tried to help us secretly; the fact remains that he did not speak, possibly because he was afraid or for other reasons of his own, and we cannot forget this." "He may have secretly helped many victims and many refugees, but the question is, 'If he had raised his voice, would it have helped or not?'"

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