“I don’t divide Jews into religious and secular, to me, they are all Jews.”

Who said that? Mel Gibson? Nope. This statement is actually from the history making Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Haifa, Israel. Cohen is history making because tomorrow afternoon Cohen will become the first non-Christian to address a synod of bishops. That synod, of course, is the synod on the Bible and Cohen will be discussing how Christians understand Jewish scriptures.

In his piece at NCR entitled “Synod: A Rabbi, a Jesuit and the Pope walk into a bar …“, John Allen Jr tells us that Cohen isn’t unaccustomed to history as he been there for quite a bit of it.

Born in Jerusalem in 1927 as the son of a famed rabbi, the young Cohen grew up in an intensely religious milieu. As a child he was a “nazirite,” meaning that he took vows never to cut his hair or beard, not to drink wine or eat grapes, and not to attend funerals. At age 16 he was released from those promises, but he remains a strict vegetarian.

The young Cohen also became active in the push for Israeli statehood. He joined a group linked to the Irgun, an armed group demanding a Jewish state. During the fighting that surrounded recognition of the nation of Israel in 1948, in which Jewish forces lost control of the Old City in Jerusalem, Cohen was wounded in the leg and spent time in a prisoner of war camp in Jordan.

“I still remember the day the British left the Old City,” Cohen recalled in a 2007 interview with the Jerusalem Post. “From our outposts, we heard Scottish bagpipes playing and the marching of many soldiers on the cobblestones gradually fading away. We realized we were on our own.”

Cohen has a high profile in Israel, having served both as the country’s Chief Rabbi and as Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He was serving in the latter capacity in 1967, when the Six-Day War broke out and Israeli troops recaptured the Old City.

“I had come full circle,” Cohen recalled. “I was the last Jew to leave the Old City of Jerusalem after it fell, and the first to return.”

Cohen heads the Ariel Institute, which trains local rabbis to act as communal leaders and also prepares rabbis to serve in Jewish communities abroad. He has served as Chief Rabbi of Haifa since 1975.

Cohen is also a veteran of Jewish-Catholic relations. Since 2002, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, has organized a formal dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Cohen has led the Jewish delegation in those sessions.

While I am sure that some of the same reactionary folks who think 9/11 was an inside job will consider Rabbi Cohen’s address as a sign of something sinister involving the masons, I think it is very interesting and should be very enlightening. I hope to be able to find the Rabbi’s remarks in English online.

Cohen’s dialogue partner will a Jesuit Biblical Scholar, French Cardinal Albert Vanhoye. Vanohoye is reportedly a renowned scholar on the book of Hebrews. See if one were to be reactionary about such things, I would generally be more worried about the Jesuit scholar addressing a synod than a Rabbi. At least with a Rabbi, you know where he is coming from and what he believes. Jesuits on the on the other hand…