ROME – On Thursday Pope Francis welcomed longtime friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka to the Vatican for the presentation of a new version of the Torah, which he said is a sign of the love God shows to man in both words and gestures.
The Torah “manifests the paternal and visceral love of God, a love shown in words and concrete gestures, a love that becomes covenant,” the Pope said during the February 23 audience, adding that the word covenant in itself “is resonant with associations that bring us together.”
He noted how St. John Paul II in his speech for the 25th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate,” which marked a milestone in improving Catholic-Jewish relations, called the Torah “the living teaching of the living God.”
“God is the greatest and most faithful covenantal partner,” he said, noting that not only did God call Abraham to form a people that would become “a blessing for all peoples of the earth,” but he still desires a world in which men and women “are bound to him and as a result live in harmony among themselves and with creation.”
At a time when things people say often “lead to tragic division and rivalry, these divine words of covenant open before all of us paths of goodness to walk together,” he said.
The publication of the new edition of the Torah, he said, “is itself the fruit of a ‘covenant’ between persons of different nationalities, ages and religious confessions, who joined in this common effort.”
Pope Francis spoke to Skorka – a longtime friend from his time in Buenos Aires – and the delegation of Jewish leaders that came with him to present a new, annotated edition of the Torah complete with colorful illustrations.
The Torah refers to Jewish written law and traditionally consists of the first five books of the Old Testament, although it can also mean the entire Jewish Bible in certain contexts.
Calling Skorka both a “brother and friend,” Francis voiced his gratitude to the delegation for the “thoughtful gesture” of coming to the Vatican to present the Torah, which is “the Lord’s gift, his revelation, his word.”
He noted that the “fraternal and institutional dialogue” between Christians and Jews is now “well-established and effective,” and continues to be strengthened and carried forward through various encounters and collaborations.
Turning to the text of the new Torah itself, he said the editor’s note inside emphasizes the “dialogical approach” that Catholics and Jews have regarding their relations, and communicates “a cultural vision of openness, mutual respect and peace that accords with the spiritual message of the Torah.”
Those who designed the new edition, he said, paid special attention to both the important literary aspects of the text, as well as the colorful illustrations that now accompany it, adding “further value” to what was already there.
“Every edition of sacred Scripture, however, possesses a spiritual value that infinitely surpasses its material value,” he said, and prayed that God would bless all those who contributed to the new edition, as well as those present for the encounter.
The presentation of the Torah was the latest sign of collaboration between Jews and Catholics, falling just days after a new joint-exhibit of the Menorah was presented by the Vatican Museums and the Jewish Museum of Rome.
The exhibit, titled “Menorah: Worship, History, Legend,” will be shown simultaneously at both the Jewish Museum as well as the Braccio di Carlo Magno Museum in the Vatican, located under the left colonnade in St. Peter’s Square.
It will run May 15-July 23 and marks the first time such a joint-exhibit has been done. Pieces featured will include roughly 130 artifacts, including menorahs from different periods and depictions of them in paintings, sarcophagi, sculptures and medieval and Renaissance drawings and manuscripts.