Rumors that the Vatican has in its keeping some of the objects that originally existed in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem 1,950 years ago have circulated for a long time. The article in the Jerusalem Post states that the Vatican residence was built over parts of Caesar’s palace and that the Vatican, including St. Peter’s, was built over Emperor Vespasian’s palace at Rome, where excavations are underway today. Josephus Flavius, the historian, wrote that Vespasian seized these sacred objects at the temple in Jerusalem, and Hirschel Moskoff believes that Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Security Services may be in possession of well-documented evidence. He refers to a meeting with a young Jewish student at the Vatican University who was pressured by professor and students alike who wanted to convert him. The student was invited by Cardinal Antonio Samore to view his former Jewish heritage – these temple objects – in an attempt to entice him to convert.
Told Shimon Peres
Twenty years ago, writes Moskoff, the student related his experience to then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other Israelis who were negotiating with senior Vatican officials at the time. The author views the Israeli State and the Jewish World Congress as appropriate counterparts for some form of repatriation deal now that Roman Catholic relations with Israel have improved. Rabbi David Rosen – who chaired the International Jewish Committee for Interfaith Consultations (IJCIC) with other world religions – was awarded a papal knighthood in 2005 for his contribution to Jewish-Catholic reconciliation and led the much-publicized 2013 prayer service with the Pope, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres at the Vatican. Rosen suggests contacting various museums in Israel which have already displayed exhibits of Vatican art and archeology (which originally came from Israel), and suggests a loan arrangement for a limited period, to display some ancient objects.
Replacement theology’s role
Hirschel Moskoff also believes that replacement theology heightens doubts about Jewish ownership of these historical objects, in the same way that the legal right to Jerusalem is discussed today and called in question by international bodies. The pope’s official liaison for Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, stated in an official letter dated November 15, 2013 that “if Temple treasures do in fact still exist, the church will return those lost items to their “legitimate owners.” The article in the Jerusalem Post also mentions a Swiss Vatican guard who discovered that he was a Jew and who decided to open the gate at night and go all the way down where he saw the cave and the Menorah candlestick. He told this to the then chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who testified about the incident. Hirschel Moskoff believes that the State of Israel should prepare a legal process for the return of the ancient temple artefacts, which “fully belong in Jerusalem as the eternal national heritage of the Jewish people”. Otherwise, the risk is that decisions by international entities may present a completely new ‘reality’ to which Israel is forced to relate.