Pope Francis wished Jews around the world a “sweet and peaceful” new year, using the traditional Jewish greeting of “Shana Tova,” according to a statement from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and The Huffington Post.
The pope’s first private audience with an international Jewish leader took place earlier this week at the Vatican, with Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the WJC.
Pope Francis paid tribute to Christianity's Jewish roots by reiterating a statement he made last June that “to be a good Christian it is necessary to understand Jewish history and traditions.” He was compassionate, as always, and reiterated his statement from last June that “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite.”
“Pope Francis’ leadership has not only reinvigorated the Catholic Church but also given a new momentum to relations with Judaism,” Lauder said, according to The Huffington Post. “Never in the past 2,000 years have relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people been so good.”
Lauder presented Pope Francis with a Kiddush cup and a honey cake, traditionally eaten by Jews on this occasion to symbolize a sweet new year, reports The Huffington Post.
The two religious leaders also addressed the Syria situation and agreed to speak out against attacks on religious minorities, including Coptic Christians in Egypt, as well as trends that threaten to restrict ancient religious practices like circumcision. Regarding Syria, the pope said that the killing of human beings is “unacceptable,” and declared that “world leaders must do everything to avoid war.”
The Jewish News Service reports that, during the private and informal meeting, which was attended by members of the World Jewish Congress and its Latin American affiliates, Pope Francis spoke extensively about the need for protection of Christian minorities in the Middle East. He also discussed Jewish-Christian relations, specifically mentioning bans on kosher slaughter in Poland.
Since becoming pontiff in March, Pope Francis has made Jewish-Christian relations a priority, continuing the legacy of his predecessors. He has met several times with Jewish leaders and has announced tentative plans to visit Israel next year.
“The leadership of successive popes over the past five decades has helped to overcome a lot of prejudice,” Lauder said. “This allows us now to work together in defending religious freedom wherever it is under threat and whichever community is affected.”
History.com says Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is one of Judaism’s holiest days. Meaning “head of the year” or “first of the year,” the festival begins on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls during September or October.
Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two “High Holy Days” in the Jewish religion, according to history.com.