Pope helped reduce anti-Semitism worldwide: chief rabbi

Pope Benedict XVI improved ties between Judaism and Christianity which helped reduced anti-Semitism around the world, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel said on Monday following the pontiff's shock resignation.

"During his term, the relations between the Chief Rabbinate and the Church, and Judaism and Christianity, became much closer, which brought to a decrease in anti-Semitic acts around the world," a spokesman for Rabbi Yona Metzger told AFP expressing hope that his successor would continue in the same vein.

"We are grateful to Pope Benedict for all he has done to strengthen the ties between the religions and promote interfaith peace," the rabbi said through his spokesman.

"I wish him good health and long days and years, and hope and pray his legacy will continue, and that the Vatican's orientation -- during his term and his successor's -- will continue."

For the Jewish community, one of the pope's landmark achievements was his exoneration of the Jewish people from responsibility for the death of Jesus.

In a book published in 2011, the pope wrote that those responsible for Christ's crucifixion were the "aristocracy of the temple" in Jerusalem and the "masses" -- not "the Jewish people as a whole."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the pope's "courage" and Jewish leaders it said sets an important marker against anti-Semitism within the Church.