Light of Torah encourages grassroots Christian audiences to explore the riches of the Hebrew Scriptures (‘Old Testament’) through a weekly practice of Torah reflection aided by the interpretative insights of Jewish tradition, drawing on Jewish sources from ancient to modern times.
‘Torah’ here refers to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Torah also has a more expansive meaning, referring to the whole Hebrew Bible or the entire corpus of Jewish sacred writings.
In engaging Jewish sources and insights, we are attentive to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent official ecclesial documents of the Catholic Church which encourage the faithful to:
Value the spiritual links between Judaism and Christianity
(Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, 4);
Listen deeply to how the Jewish people understand their own religious experience (CRRJ, Guidelines, 1974);
Respect Jewish biblical scholarship
(PBC, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 1993);
Learn from Jewish exegesis practised for more than two thousand years
(PBC, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures, 2001, Preface).
Pope Francis reminds us that God continues to work among the Jewish people "and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word"; and that "there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word" (Evangelii Gaudium, 249).
With the help of Jewish insights, Christians' engagement with their own Scripture is enriched. The process deepens our respect for the original custodians of these sacred texts, the Jewish people who remain in an ongoing vital relationship with Torah, with much to teach us.
Regular reflection on the Hebrew Scriptures is one way that Christians draw close to Jesus himself, conscious that these are the Scriptures that shaped his life, identity and teaching.
Again, attentive to recent developments in the Catholic Church, we are mindful that:
St John Paul II spoke of Jesus as “an authentic son of Israel, deeply rooted in his own people’s long history”, saying that "it is impossible to fully express the mystery of Christ without reference to the Old Testament" (11 April 1997).
Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), in one of his theological works, describes Jesus as “God’s living Torah”.
Image at left: Jesus, depicted as a Jewish boy learning Torah. Convent of Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem.
Ten Ways . . .
A journey with the sacred text
Ten ways that Torah study benefits Christians
Through an encounter with Jewish interpretative traditions we are better attuned to the Jewish roots of Christianity and to the continuing vitality of Jewish covenantal life.
We strengthen our capacity to actively engage with the sacred text, aware of the immense value of both Testaments and the unity of God’s word.
We learn patience with the biblical text and the power of verbalizing what we read.
We experience the benefits of ‘staying with’ whole books of the Bible over time.
We delight in discovering Scripture stories we never knew existed (yet they’ve been there in our Bible all along).
Our biblical and spiritual horizons are enlarged. Readings at church on Sundays never sound the same again.
We become more aware of contemporary Jewish communities and the vast corpus of (post-biblical) Jewish sacred literature underpinning their traditions.
We come to know our own sacred story in a fresh way. We come to know Jesus, and to appreciate his Jewish identity, in a new way.
Our love for the Hebrew Scriptures leads naturally to a love and respect for the Jewish people (and reinforces our repudiation of antisemitism).
We experience Scripture as joy and nourishment. Our homes are sanctified by the sharing of God’s Word within the dwellings of God’s people.
Pope john Paul II
Address to Pontifical Biblical Commission
(11 April 1997)
“Actually, it is impossible to fully express the mystery of Christ without reference to the Old Testament. Jesus’ human identity is determined on the basis of his bond with the people of Israel, with the dynasty of David and his descent from Abraham. And this does not mean only a physical belonging. By taking part in the synagogue celebrations where the Old Testament texts were read and commented upon, Jesus also came humanly to know these texts; he nourished his mind and heart with them, using them in prayer and as an inspiration for his actions. Thus he became an authentic son of Israel, deeply rooted in his own people’s long history. . .
To deprive Christ of his relationship with the Old Testament is therefore to detach him from his roots and to empty his mystery of all meaning. Indeed, to be meaningful, the Incarnation had to be rooted in centuries of preparation. Christ would otherwise have been like a meteor that falls by chance to the earth and is devoid of any connection with human history. From her origins, the Church has well understood that the Incarnation is rooted in history and consequently, she has fully accepted Christ’s insertion into the history of the People of Israel.”