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Sukkot in the Vatican: Rabbi spent the holidays with Pope Francis

Rabbi Abraham Skorka from Argentina recently spent several days in the Vatican, hanging out with his good friend and countryman Pope Francis and staying at the guest house that the modest pontiff has made his residence.

La Stampa’s Vatican Insider has the story:

Never before in the history of Christian-Jewish relations have a Pope and a Rabbi celebrated their friendship by living in the Vatican together for several days, sharing all meals, including on two Jewish festivals and the Sabbath at which the Rabbi said prayers in Hebrew, and discussing what more  they can do together to promote dialogue and peace in the world.

That is what actually happened over the past four days at the Vatican guesthouse (Santa Marta) where Pope Francis lives and where his friend from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, has been his guest from September 25 to this day.

“I eat with him at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.  He cares for me, and controls everything regarding my food to makes sure it is all kosher, and according to my religious tradition.  These are festive days, and I have to say certain prayers at meals and, I expand the last prayer and translate it. He accompanies me together with the others at table -his secretaries and a bishop, and they all say ‘Amen’ at the end”, the Rabbi said.

Skorka, the rector of the Latin American Rabbinic Seminary, got to know the future pope in Argentina. The two men conducted a series of interreligious dialogues back when Francis was still known as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. The dialogues were later published in book form.

Skorka told Vatican Insider that he and the pope hope to travel together soon to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

While the relationship between the two clerics does seem unique, this pope is not the first occupant of the Chair of St. Peter to have a rabbinic buddy. Francis’s predecessor, the academically inclined Pope Benedict XVI, bonded with the famously prolific Judaic studies professor Rabbi Jacob Neusner over shared scholarly interests. (Here’s a nice account from Neusner about visiting Benedict in the Vatican.)

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