November 30, 2023

An anonymous Italian member of parliament recently held a Zoom meeting with Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu, indicating that Italy is prepared to return the lost Temple vessels to Israel. The article, originally reported by ISRAEL365, has gained widespread attention in both Jewish and Christian communities. However, the truth is a mix of genuine and fake news.

As the director of the Museum Exchange Program, Jewish Heritage Project located at the Vatican in Rome, I have been involved in this issue for approximately two years. My interactions with Vatican officials, as well as the Italian government, have shed light on the complexities of the situation. The Vatican Church and the government of Italy are distinct entities, with separate power structures and diplomatic immunity.

The official Vatican position is neither to confirm nor deny possession of Herodian Temple objects. However, high-ranking Vatican officials have reportedly been willing to reveal the location of these vessels to religious Jews before retiring or resigning. There is also an Italian political opinion that the Temple treasures should go to the Roman Jews, as they are considered the true recipients due to their historical presence in Rome.

The Vatican’s reluctance to discuss restitution or repatriation to Israel presents a theological challenge for the Catholic Church. Although there is limited support for a Jewish museum exhibition in Rome, led by Pope Francis, concerns remain about political fallout and reaction from Christian Arabs in the Middle East.

In conclusion, the focus should shift to historical Byzantine-era antiquities in the Vatican Museums, such as ‘Baldwin’s Treasure’, which holds significant spiritual and historical value. This represents a more realistic and practical opportunity for collaboration between the Jewish Heritage Project and the Vatican Museums.