Pope Benedict XVI last week announced his resignation from the Papal Seat in Rome. What's a rabbi have to say about the Pope and the Vatican? It raises a number of questions that have been troubling Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, Director of NJOP.
Rabbi Buchwald searched through the Talmudic tomes, as well as Google, and he has concluded that according to Jewish law, there is no precedent of a High Priest or head of the Sanhedrin, the head of the Supreme Court of Israel, resigning. They usually died in office. What does that mean in terms of Pope Benedict? If it were according to Jewish law, he would have to serve out his terms until the end of his day. However, if he felt he was unable to complete the duties of the job or was incompetent (the High Priest, for example, would need to be able to perform sacrifices in the Holy Temple and they required a great deal of labor) he could be replaced. It says in the Code of Jewish Law that you are not allowed to appoint someone to be the head of the Sanhedrin who is very advanced in age. Pope Benedict became the Pope at age 77. Is that considered an advanced age nowadays? Perhaps not.
That book also explains that an older person may not be a very happy, forthcoming or optimistic individual. Also, to be appointed to the Sanhedrin, the person must have children, since parenting prepares you for showing compassion. It was up to Pope Benedict to decide if he could no longer perform all of his tasks, and it seems that he has decided that he cannot. We wish the Catholic Church well and hope that the next Pope will be a kind person who showers his blessings on all of humanity and on the Jewish people.