When Israel’s chief rabbis meet Pope John Paul II today, they will seek permission to search Vatican storerooms for artifacts such as the huge golden menorah that stood in the Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
Vatican officials confirmed to the Associated Press the meeting would take place but declined comment on the rabbis’ request.
Yehuda Metzger and Shlomo Amar are to have an audience with Pope John Paul, the first by Israel’s chief rabbis in the Vatican. The pope met Israel’s previous chief rabbis during his visit in 2000.
Amar, spiritual leader of Israel’s Jews of North African origin, told Israeli army radio that when he received the invitation, he brought up the issue of the artifacts.
“The truth is I asked them, I could not resist,” he said. “I asked them about the Temple vessels and the menorah.”
When the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70, they took Temple treasures with them. Legend has it that religious articles from the Temple, including the menorah, were among them. Amar said the Vatican has already denied the menorah is there.
The Arch of Titus in Rome depicts victorious Roman legions marching off with the seven-branch menorah in hand.
“My heart tells me this is not the truth, but that it is some kind of camouflage,” Amar said.
An aide to the rabbi said the Vatican was not likely to permit a search. The Vatican will allow the rabbis to view rare Jewish manuscripts in its possession, Amar said. He said if the rabbis were to come across “other objects,” they would be happy to bring them home.
The Maariv newspaper in Israel said the two rabbis could also seek to buy back a candelabrum that came from the Temple. It is believed to be held in the Vatican’s vast treasure caves.
The menorah was the most important symbol of the Temple after the Ark of the Covenant. The image of the biblical menorah is the symbol of the modern state of Israel.
Some Orthodox Jews believe the restoration of the menorah and other holy vessels to Jerusalem would be the first step in rebuilding the Temple, whose site is now occupied by the Al Aqsa Mosque, a Muslim shrine.
According to other press reports, the pontiff could proclaim an annual day dedicated to Judaism, in a fresh effort to further reconcile Jews and Christians.
In 1996, in the face of criticism and skepticism, Israeli Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet requested of the pope that an official inquiry be conducted to determine if the legendary golden menorah from the Second Temple is hidden in the Vatican.
Shetreet claimed to have evidence the menorah was there, though he refused to disclose it. He did say he had statements of people who claimed to have had discussions with previous popes, who indicated that the Catholic Church indeed did have such objects.
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