Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

November 23, 2013

Rabbi's good friend became the pope

NEW YORK (AP) — It was September, not an easy time for a religious Jew to be traveling. The Jewish month of Tishrei was ending with its marathon of holy days. Kosher wine would be needed. There were Sabbath blessings to recite. Fortunately, Rabbi Abraham Skorka had a friend with the run of a hotel who arranged for kosher meals and said “amen” to the rabbi’s prayers.

Skorka has been talking about this trip ever since, in interviews and meetings with Jewish groups, for two reasons: The hotel was inside the Vatican, and the friend was Pope Francis.

“He invited me to share his table for the three daily meals. He told me, ‘You have to sit here’ — to sit on his right,” Skorka said in a recent interview in New York. “I said, ‘Look, I have to say Kiddush.’ I had to say the special blessing for the holiday, for Shabbat, before the meal is served. He told me, ‘Do what you have to do.’”

Skorka — rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires, which has ties to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York — finds himself in the unlikely position of being close friends with a pope. When Francis was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, he and Skorka co-wrote a book of dialogues on Judaism and Roman Catholicism titled, “On Heaven and Earth,” had a similarly themed TV show called “Bible, A Dialogue for Today,” and offered prayers from each other’s pulpits.

Bergoglio kept a framed photo of the two of them in his study. At Skorka’s synagogue, the rabbi displayed a greeting the cardinal made to the congregation on one of his Rosh Hashana visits.

“There is overall a very deep respect for the other,” Skorka said. “His commitment with the Jewish people is total.”

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