Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Chief rabbi wants pope to say Jews did not kill Christ

AP , JERUSALEM

Theater-goers watch, in the Liberty Theater in Wenatchee, Washington on Wednesday, the opening of the emotional and graphic movie, The Passion of the Christ.

PHOTO: AP

One of Israel's two chief rabbis on Thursday urged the pope to reiterate in public that Jews are not to blame for the death of Jesus, saying he fears Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ could revive such beliefs.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said he is sending a letter to Pope John Paul II with the request. Metzger said he wants the pope to reiterate a key church decision from the 1960s that reversed the centuries-old doctrine that Jews were behind the crucifixion.

"The Vatican and the Pope must explain today ... that the Jewish nation, the Jewish people didn't kill Jesus," Metzger said.

In the letter, Metzger wrote that friends who saw the film were "deeply shocked by it." He said the film, which is "particularly violent," may lead viewers to believe that Jews are "collectively responsible for the crucifixion" and "may provoke undesirable anti-Semitic responses, both in the short term and in the long term."

Metzger asks the pope to "consider an appropriate response," but without giving the movie additional publicity "that this film certainly does not deserve."

Vatican officials responded by saying the church's opposition to anti-Semitism is clear, as expressed by its 1965 document on the matter. They added that the pope has on many occasions reiterated this view, notably when he visited Israel in 2000 and when he went to Rome's synagogue in 1986.

Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar was not available for comment, and his spokesman, Shlomo Parvar, was not aware of the film.

Gibson's film, a bloody depiction of Christ's final 12 hours and his death, opened in American movie theaters on Wednesday. Jewish leaders have criticized the movie, saying it will fuel anti-Semitism through an unfair portrayal of Jews as being the main force behind Jesus' death.

Gibson, who directed, funded and co-scripted the film, has denied those charges.

Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League also asked the Vatican to restate its view on the crucifixion, but a Vatican official at the time said no such statement was planned.

In a landmark 1965 document called Nostra Aetate, Latin for "In Our Time," the Vatican deplored anti-Semitism in every form and repudiated the "deicide" charge that blamed Jews as a people for Christ's death. The idea of Jewish guilt had fueled anti-Semitism for centuries.

The document was issued during the Second Vatican Council and has been credited with helping improve relations between Christians and Jews.

Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial authority for the 6 million Jewish victims of the World War II Nazi Holocaust, said that though the film "does have an element of anti-Semitism," it is not connected to the Holocaust, and Yad Vashem has not taken a formal position on it.

Gibson is a member of a movement known as traditionalist Catholicism, which rejects the modernizing reforms made at the council, a series of meetings held from 1962 to 1965 that dramatically changed the Catholic Church.

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