Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger have been invited to four meetings with visiting Pope Benedict XVI. They will attend one, will not attend another, and are considering the others.
The pope’s arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on Monday at 11 AM will be attended chiefly by politicians, and the rabbis have announced that they will not attend. “The pope is wearing two hats,” their spokesman told Israel National News: “Head of a state, and head of a religion. The airport ceremony is more of a political one, and therefore the rabbis will not be attending.”
Also on the itinerary for Monday is an interfaith meeting at the Notre Dame Guest House just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. The rabbis have not announced whether they will attend, as is the case for the pope’s visit to the Western Wall – following his visit with the Grand Mufti on the Temple Mount – on Tuesday morning.
The chief rabbis will host the visiting pontiff at Heichal Shlomo, the chief rabbinate’s former headquarters near the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem, on Tuesday at 10:35 AM.
Group Calls on Rabbis to Boycott
At least one group has called on the rabbis not to meet at all with Pope Benedict. The Task Force to Save the Nation and Land, headed by Rabbis Yaakov Yosef and Shalom Dov Wolpe, conveyed its call by telegram to the chief rabbinate. The message reads, in part:
“This involves a desecration of G-d’s Name… The very meeting and recognition of him is related to idol worship, if not outright idol worship, and involves a sin that one must die for and not violate. Not to mention that the memories still linger of the persecution of the Inquisition, as well as the Church’s role in the Holocaust. In addition, this pope is known for his personal membership in the Hitler Youth, as well as his statements in favor of a Holocaust-denier.”
“All the above is many times worse,” the message states, “given that the visit is accompanied by pressures and agreements to give over to the Church parts of Mount Zion and other parts of the Holy Land. A welcome by the Chief Rabbis encourages this trend.”
Hostility in 1964
The Task Force reminds the chief rabbis that one of their predecessors, Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim, refused to meet with a visiting pope in 1964. They do not note, however, that Rabbi Nissim only did so after the pope refused to meet him in Jerusalem. The entire visit was marked by papal hostility to the Jewish State, as the pope refused to mention Israel by name and did not visit Yad Vashem or other official Israeli sites.
In 2000, when Pope John Paul II visited, Chief Rabbi Lau met him in Heichal Shlomo, and the visit was more cordial. Rabbi Lau still expressed disappointment that the visitor made no mention of Pope Pius XII’s silence during the Holocaust.
In the context of papal-rabbinical meetings, it should be noted that Pope Pius XII refused several requests by Israel’s Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog to meet with him before and during the Holocaust and discuss how the Church could help save Jewish lives. After the war, too, Chief Rabbi Herzog asked for the pope's assistance in locating Jewish orphans who were cared for by Catholic families, and again, the pope refused.
Minimal Contact by Knesset Speaker
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin will not go out of his way to meet with Pope Benedict during the papal visit. While Rivlin will pose with the pope for a photograph at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, he will send Deputy Knesset Speaker Ruhama Avraham Balila to ceremonies at Ben Gurion Airport and the President's Residence in Jerusalem. The speaker says he is not boycotting the pope but prioritizing his schedule.
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