Pope Francis names two rabbis to Pontifical Academy of Life in historic first
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Pope Francis names two rabbis to Pontifical Academy of Life in historic first

Pope Francis waving from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Dec. 25, 2015. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Pope Francis appointed two rabbis — from Israel and Argentina — to the Pontifical Academy of Life, the first time rabbis have been invited to be members.

The pope named 45 new ordinary members and five honorary members to the advisory body of the academy, the Vatican announced last week.

Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, who won the Israel Prize in 1999 for original rabbinic literature, and Rabbi Fernando Szlajen of Argentina were designated on June 13 as members of the institution that “exists for the promotion and defense of human life, especially regarding bioethics as it regards Christian morality.”

Academy members are nominated for five-year terms, which can be renewed. Membership ends when an academician turns 80.

Steinberg was recognized with the Israel Prize for authoring “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics,” published in seven volumes in Hebrew and three in English,  and translated by Dr. Fred Rosner. He is the director of the medical ethics unit of the Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and director of the Editorial Committee of the Talmudic Encyclopedia.

Szlajen, who hails from the birth country of Francis, is the director of the Department of Culture for the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires and a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires.

Founded in 1994 by St. John Paul II, the Pontifical Academy for Life is charged with defending and promoting “the value of human life and the dignity of the person.” Last November, Francis issued new statutes for the academy to widen the scope of its activity and research on life issues.

After doing so, the pope appointed new members to the advisory bodym including scientists, professors and experts in medicine and ethics from both religious and secular backgrounds.

The new members hail from 27 countries, with seven from the United States and Canada.