Daily Israel Report

Rabbi Lau: No Need to Flatter the Pope -- or to Rebuff Him

Ex-Chief Rabbi Lau lists the Pope’s two "grave mistakes” and his Nazi background – but says Israel should welcome him nonetheless.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/8/2009, 1:05 PM

Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau explains Pope Benedict XVI’s two “mistakes” and how he differs from the last pope – but says we shouldn’t rebuff his visit to Israel.

Speaking with Arutz-7’s Hebrew department, Rabbi Lau, now the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo (Jaffa), said:

‘The current pope is totally different than his predecessor. John Paul II was a bishop in Krakow during the Holocaust, saw the Holocaust with his own eyes, and did not agree to baptize any Jewish child given over by his parents to Polish neighbors or to a church for safekeeping. He said, ‘We owe a debt to our older brother, the Jewish People.’ These are facts; I can even name names."

“But the current pope was born in Germany and was a member of the Hitler Youth," the rabbi said. "I don’t know if he was in the German Army, but his background is totally different than that of his predecessor.”

The Vatican’s official biography for Pope Benedict XVI states, “During the last months of the war he was enrolled in an auxiliary anti-aircraft corps.” The Wikipedia entry about him states, “he was drafted at age 16 into the German anti-aircraft corps. [He] then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigours of military duty.”

The Pope's Two Grave Mistakes
Rabbi Lau, himself a child survivor of the Holocaust, stated that the current Pope “made two grave mistakes, in my opinion, in his relations with us over the past year, casting a shadow over the entire issue. First, he agreed to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the Holocaust, and who said there was no systematic murder of Jews. [Williamson] said that what happened was that ‘only’ 200 to 300,000 Jews died in the war, but not in the Holocaust, because he says there was no Holocaust. He also said there were no gas chambers. The pope agreed to reinstate him after he apologized – but even then he didn’t retract his words, but said only that he wouldn’t have said them if would have known that they would offend his friends in the Church…”

Pope Benedict’s second grave error, Rabbi Lau said, “was at the Durban II conference two weeks ago.  Everyone knew that it would be a stage for incitement against Israel and that the star would be [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad… But despite this, the pope announced that his representatives would attend and that he blesses the participants. Many countries boycotted the conference, including the U.S., Poland and Germany, but the pope sent a delegation. The European delegates who were there left the hall when Ahmadinejad spoke – but not the pope’s delegates. They remained there throughout the whole speech.”

Despite the above, Rabbi Lau says, “We must not rebuff the visit. We need not bend over backwards or flatter him, but it should not be rejected. This is a visit initiated by the pope himself so that he can follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. We must welcome him, if only for the fact that millions of Jews still live in the Diaspora, and many of them in places where the Catholic Church is strong, such as Latin America, Poland, Ukraine and elsewhere. We must not give our enemies ammunition or pour fuel on the fire; we must not endanger even one Jew.”