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Pope Francis Responds to Open Letter Outlining ‘Existential Threat’ to Jews

Jewish leaders including Hartman scholars Karma Ben-Johanan and Malka Simkovich wrote to Pope Francis asking for Catholics to extend a hand in solidarity to the Jewish community.
Koreanet via Flickr
Koreanet via Flickr
Karma Ben Johanan is a research fellow at the Kogod Research Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. She teaches at the Department for Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She completed her PhD in the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University. Subsequently, she was a Fulbright postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and a postdoctoral fellow at the Polonsky Academy for Advanced Studies in the

Malka Z. Simkovich

On November 12, 2023, five Jewish scholars deeply involved in Jewish/Christian dialogue including Hartman fellows Karma Ben-Johanan and Malka Simkovich wrote an open letter to Pope Francis asking for solidarity as the Jewish community faces an existential threat. This letter was signed by over 400 Jewish clergy and scholars. On February 2, 2024, the Pope responded in a letter addressed to our “Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel” in which he condemned the increase in attacks against Jews around the world.

Excerpts from letter to Pope Francis (full text here):

“As face answers to face in water, so does one man’s heart to another.” (Prov. 27:19).

We write as Jewish scholars, religious leaders, and long-time practitioners in Jewish-Christian dialogue, in Israel, America, and Europe, to remind our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church of “the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock” (Nostra Aetate #4) in a time of distress and anguish for Jews all over the world…

This state of affairs shakes the ground beneath our feet. The heavy grief for the lives that were taken is joined by a sense of deep loneliness, and a loss of confidence in the possibility of a life of safety and freedom in the sovereign state of Israel and elsewhere. Most of all, the events invoke great anxiety among us for our future. October 7th will be forever marked in Jewish memory. The implications of this terrible day will impact our sense of who we are, how we understand ourselves, and our relationships with others in ways we haven’t even begun to fathom…

[W]e call our Catholic siblings to extend a hand in solidarity to the Jewish community throughout the world, in the spirit of the Church’s “genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant” (Pope John Paul II, Prayer at the Western Wall, 2000), that covenant of which the Catholic Church had taught that it “has never been revoked by God” (cf. 1 Romans 11:29).

Excerpts from response from Pope Francis (full text here):

We are experiencing a moment of great travail. Wars and divisions are increasing all over the world. We are truly, as I said some time ago, in the midst of a sort of “piecemeal world war,” with serious consequences on the lives of many populations.

Unfortunately, even the Holy Land has not been spared this pain, and since October 7 it too has been cast into a spiral of unprecedented violence. My heart is torn at the sight of what is happening in the Holy Land, by the power of so much division and so much hatred…

In times of desolation, we have great difficulty seeing a future horizon where light replaces darkness, in which friendship replaces hatred, in which cooperation replaces war. However, we, as  Jews and Catholics, are witnesses to precisely such a horizon. And we must act, starting first and foremost from the Holy Land, where together we want to work for peace and justice, doing everything possible to create relationships capable of opening new horizons of light for everyone, Israelis and Palestinians.

Together, Jews and Catholics, we must commit ourselves to this path of friendship, solidarity and cooperation in seeking ways to repair a destroyed world, working together in every part of the world, and especially in the Holy Land, to recover the ability to see in the face of every person the image of God, in which we were created.

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