From the Desk - Temple Vessels in the Vatican
Shalom Friends! We are so excited this Shabbat to welcome our guest speaker, Rabbi Shalom Hammer. I have had the privilege of welcoming Rabbi Hammer to both of my previous congregations and he is an outstanding orator and educator. He is a contributing editor for the Jerusalem Post and the founder and director of an organisation which advocates tolerance and unity between religious and secular Jews in Israel. I hope that those of you who are in town will come along to hear Rabbi Hammer give the sermon as well as two talks over the course of Shabbat. At the special sit-down Kiddush, he will speak on the topic of Israel's Struggle for Survival and Vision of Continuity. At Seuda Shlisheet (8pm), he will speak on Jewish Heroism: Mind with Matter. Please also remember that our second annual Mega Fruit Salad making is coming right up on Sunday, August 12th. Please join us in this fantastic initiative by donating fruit and helping us make the fruit salad. We also need people to deliver the fruit salad to various good causes. Please contact me if you can help with this. Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbat! Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What's the Deal with... The Temple Vessels in the Vatican? A few weeks ago, at Lunch N' Learn, I mentioned the claim that many artifacts from the Temple are being kept in the Vatican. Many attendees were intrigued by this claim and wanted to know more about it. So...What's the deal?? This is a story with a long history! There is a famous Arch of Titus Menorah Relief depicting Roman soldiers carrying the menorah away after the destruction of the Temple. Jewish sources also contain many accounts reporting the menorah being seen in Rome after the destruction of the Temple. For example, Josephus Flavius, a first century Roman-Jewish historian reported that the Temple artifacts were taken to Rome and placed in Vespasian's Temple of Peace. In the second half of the 12th century, a Spanish Jew made a tour of the known world. He writes in his journal that the Jews of Rome knew that the Temple vessels were hidden in a cave in the Vatican. But the rumours really picked up in modern times. In 1996, Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs, Shimon Sheetreet, met with Pope John Paul II and requested the Vatican's aid in searching for the Temple vessels as "a goodwill gesture." Haaretz reported that "a tense silence hovered over the room after Sheetreet's requests were heard." Then, in 2012, just before Pope Francis came to Israel for his first official visit, Rabbi Yonatan Shtencel made a sensation in the media when he wrote a letter to the Vatican requesting the Pope take the opportunity to return the golden menorah stolen from the Temple. Archbishop Guiseppe Lazzaratto responded saying the Vatican had given the matter "serious attention." He neither admitted nor denied that the Vatican are holding the vessels. He did reaffirm the growing affinity between the Church and the Jews, noting that withholding the vessels would go against that trend. He wrote "If you can provide me with any evidence that the sacred vessels are indeed kept in the archives or somewhere else in the Vatican, I will be very pleased to forward your request to the prefect of the same archives and to Pope Francis himself." Indeed, the Vatican still receives hundreds of letters every year from Jews and Non-Jews calling for the menorah to be returned to the Jews. So, where does this leave us? Does the Vatican have the menorah? It seems not! In 2004, the Israel Antiques Authority sent a team to Rome to search the Vatican storerooms for signs of archaeological artifacts. They report finding nothing unexpected. Indeed, Professor Lawrence Schiffman, one of the world's leading Jewish historians has said that the historical facts show it would have been virtually impossible for the Vatican to have the menorah. He says he highly doubts you will find a true scholar who has knowledge in this area who would lend it credence. "According to those who have studied it, it's only a modern myth." The Vatican didn't even exist until around the year 700. Rome was sacked several times in and around the fifth century so whatever vessels that may have been there were destroyed. Dr. Steven Fine, one of the most authoritative experts in the world on the missing menorah, concurs. He explains that Jewish textual sources about seeing menorah in Rome have no connection to the Vatican. He says: "There's no evidence of the notion of the Menorah ever being at the Vatican anywhere before the 1960s. It's a brand new story." Fine explains that the myth emerged out of very old Jewish, Protestant and European distrust of the Church. In particular, when the Roman Catholic Church sought to improve relations with Judaism after the Second World War many Jews were suspicious and felt they must be hiding something. That something came to be the Menorah of the Temple. So it seems the Menorah isn't in the Vatican!