Everyone knows about the Jewish roots of Christianity, but it is surprising how much you can see when looking at it from an Orthodox Jewish person’s perspective. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church is much better recognized as the continuation of the last great Roman pagan society and not only the continuation of Judaism due to its Jewish roots. Shimon (Simon) becomes Peter as the "foundation rock" of Christianity. The Jubilee, which originates from yovel in Hebrew, is a year observed once in 50 years, following seven cycles of seven-year "shmita" (or sabbatical).
Jonathan Glück moved to Italy from his native Jerusalem in the mid-1990s. He is a certified tour director for Italy, the founder of the Cultural Association Jews in Italy, and a member of the Roman Speleology Association Sotteranei di Roma. For more than 15 years, he has been guiding at the Jewish Museum of Rome and the Vatican Museums.
Glück begins his three-hour walking tour with a history lesson, explaining how Jews from around the world have continuously read and reinterpreted the stories of the Torah. He emphasizes the role of rabbis in the process of interpreting and expounding on the biblical text. During the tour, he points out the colorful Sistine Chapel panel boards, highlighting how midrash (Jewish biblical interpretation) and biblical commentaries have emerged over time. Glück emphasizes how these interpretations enrich our understanding and bring creative energy to the study of sacred texts, as exemplified by the collections found in the Vatican Museums.
Orthodox Jews seek to understand every nuance of every word in the Torah to uncover its deepest and most significant lessons for life. Over the centuries, biblical exegesis, the art of interpreting and expounding upon sacred scripture, has developed to formulate a comprehensive understanding of Jewish literature, encompassing legal codes, commentaries, and collections of midrashim.
Midrash, derived from the Hebrew verb d-r-sh meaning "to seek," is a form of Hebrew literature designed to explore and deepen understanding through traditional interpretive methods. Jonathan Glück, an Orthodox Jew, explains, "As an Orthodox Jew, I can guide fellow Orthodox Jews through the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, where we engage in a continuous exchange of questions, communicating in Hebrew. We ask each other various questions, some as simple as contemplating what the biblical characters may have been thinking or feeling in a particular moment."
Furthermore, "we utilize multiple linguistic techniques and rules. For instance, in Orthodox Judaism, the belief is that the words and letters of the Torah are directly from God, emphasizing that every element is meaningful and contains vital lessons. Repetition in scripture, any missing letter, or unusual word choice is significant and could serve as a clue to unraveling the textual meaning."
"In my tours, we primarily rely on visual aids, including ancient artifacts from the Pio Christian Museum, tempera, fresco, and oil paintings from the Pinacoteca (painting gallery), as well as the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, to grasp the precise nuances of a word or phrase. In essence, these principles are known as hermeneutical rules, which form the basis of Midrashic literature developed over hundreds of years ago." Midrashim tours with Jonathan Glück offer a truly unique experience that goes beyond the popular Jewish Vatican tours that have gained popularity in the last two decades. On his tours, Torah learning takes place in Hebrew, providing an immersive experience. The journey begins by exploring the sites and regions skillfully depicted on stone sarcophagi, where the stories of the Israelites were written. Glück skillfully interprets these various episodes, bringing their messages back to life.
Glück also highlights how the rabbis developed a set of concepts and rules known as "Hermeneutics" for biblical interpretation. These long-standing rules for understanding sacred texts guide him as he showcases Midrashic perspectives while walking through the vast collections of the Vatican Museums.
Participants in Glück's tour may find themselves being photographed by interested passersby or occasionally approached by other Jewish tourists inquiring about his Jewish history tours in the Vatican and throughout Rome.
Glück's aim is to build a bridge that strengthens and enhances the interconnected yet distinct perspectives within the Judeo-Christian dialogue. Such a bridge can contribute to a deeper understanding of Christianity for Orthodox Jews, who typically do not have access to this opportunity unless they visit the Vatican with a guide who is themselves an Orthodox Jew and conducts the tours in Hebrew.