Daily Israel Report

Chief Rabbi Confronts Pope

Chief Rabbi Metzger thanks Pope for stopping missionary activity against Jews, asks him to identify Jewish children placed with Christian families.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/12/2009, 12:05 PM

Pope Benedict XVI began his first full day in Israel with visits to the Temple Mount, Western Wall, and the Chief Rabbinate. Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger thanked him for stopping missionary activity against Jews, asked him to identify Jewish children placed with Christian families, and proposed a "United Nations" for religions.

At the Wall, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov began by welcoming the Pope on behalf of the government and State of Israel to Jerusalem, “the spiritual center of the world.”

Western Wall Rabbi Doesn’t Mention Pope
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites, spoke dramatically – but pointedly did not mention the papal guest at all. Instead, Rabbi Rabinovitch read aloud from the Bible and offered a prayer for peace. He chiefly read from Kings I, 8 – King Solomon’s prayer upon the construction of the first Holy Temple. The prayer emphasizes the centrality of the holy site, of which the Western Wall is a retaining wall and one of the last remnants, and that G-d will “hearken to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people, when they shall pray towards this place.” He also read aloud from the prophets Micah and Isaiah, to the effect that “My house will be a house of prayer for all nations… On behalf of Zion, I will not be silent until its salvation comes forth like a burning torch.” The rabbi then concluded with a prayer for peace.

The Pope then read aloud, in Latin, a chapter of Psalms about Jerusalem, then placed a note with the prayer inside the Wall. Later released to the media, the prayer stated, "I bring before you the joys, the hopes and the aspirations, the trials, the suffering and the pain of all your people throughout the world," and asked for peace in "this Holy Land, the Middle East, [and upon] the entire human family."

In 2000, the note placed in the Wall by Pope John Paul II specifically asked forgiveness of G-d for “those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer.” It also said, “We wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”

At the Chief Rabbinate
From the Wall, the Pope made his way to Heichal Shlomo, the building that has long served as the headquarters of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, as well as veteran Chief Rabbinate Council member Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen and others, were on hand. Prof. Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz, the Minister of Science, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat were also on hand, as were dozens of other guests.

The rabbis and their visitor first exchanged greetings, which were not publicized, and the public speeches followed afterwards. Unlike at other stops along his itinerary, the pope was not referred to as “His Holiness” at this meeting.

The Director-General said that the deceptive and inciteful behavior of the imam at the interfaith meeting on Monday evening “showed the world what kind of enemy we have, and emphasized the difficulty of the mission you have taken upon yourself, Honorable Pope.”

Rabbi Metzger addressed the Pope as “head of the largest religion in the world.” His remarks included the following:

“We greet you in peace… True, we were exiled because of our sins, but all the prophets promised that we would return to our Land, and in fact we are now celebrating our 61st year back in our homeland… One of the famous prophecies of Ezekiel is that of the Dry Bones, in which G-d promises, ‘I will open your graves and return you back to the Land of Israel and you will know that I am G-d, I have fulfilled my word.’ We sense that this prophecy speaks about us. I am from a family most of whose members were lost in the Holocaust; we truly felt like dry bones. Yet now, we have turned from bones (atzamot) to independence (atzma’ut).

“We have truly gone through much persecution and suffering in our history. I thought to myself that if such a historic meeting as we are now holding, between the leader of the largest church and leaders of Judaism, had taken place many years ago, how much blood would have been saved! Allow me therefore to express my gratitude that you did not allow a Holocaust-denying bishop to return to the ranks of the Church…

“I must also mention with admiration your declaration that anti-Semitism is not just a crime against Jews, but against all of humanity and against G-d. Your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, put a note in the Wall asking forgiveness for all the suffering caused to Jews.

“Today is a holy day for our nation, Lag BaOmer, commemorating the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai some 2,000 years ago. He was holy, wise, and righteous, and was persecuted by the Roman regime of the time because he dared to speak – in private - against the regime. Threatened with death, he was forced to run and hide in a cave for 13 years. We see, then, the consequences of mere talk. Children today commemorate Lag BaOmer by playing with a bow and arrow, reminiscent of the verse in Jeremiah (9,7) likening evil tongues to a sharpened arrow, and symbolizing that just like an arrow is safe in your hand until it is fired off, the same is true with our words; their damage can be deadly.

“Rabbi Shmuel the Prince (HaNagid), who lived in Spain, was a friend of the Moslem sultan. One day, they took a walk, and a Moslem man cursed Rabbi Shmuel. The sultan ordered the rabbi to cut off the man’s tongue. Several months later, they again took a walk, and encountered the same man, who this time blessed Rabbi Shmuel. The sultan said, ‘Didn’t I order you to cut off his tongue?’ Rabbi Shmuel said, ‘I did - I cut off his tongue of cursing and replaced it with a tongue of blessing.’ We are grateful to G-d that the communication between our religions has turned from one of cursing to one of blessing. We must do the same with other religions as well.

“We are also overjoyed at what I understand from Church announcements that the Church has decided to stop all missionary activity among Jews. This is of inestimable importance for us.

“I also wish to thank you for your help to the family of Gilad Shalit.

"I would be most grateful if the Church would set aside one day a year to speak out not only against anti-Semitism, but also in favor of the Jewish people – to be a tongue of blessing.

“As you know, Jewish children were placed with Christian families during the Holocaust. We expect that the Church should be open about this, and help identify those children who grew up without knowing their true background and religion, and not eternalize the suffering of so many people, in fulfillment of what the Nazis wanted.”

“You have just arrived from the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, the site of Abraham’s binding of Isaac. Our prophets have said that it would be a place of worship for all nations – yet it has become a place of ammunition and terrorism. Our generation is different than others; imperialism is over, Europe is one community, the world is a global, online village. Only one thing still clouds the picture: the use of religion to kill innocent people. As I have proposed in past, we should have a type of United Nations for religions, where representatives of all religions, including those that don’t have diplomatic relations between them, can sit around one table and talk.

“I will close with a heartfelt blessing for love and brotherhood, and as Isaiah prophesized, “the mountain of G-d’s house will be established atop the mountains… and all the nations will stream towards it… [where] G-d will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths, for from Zion will go forth Torah, and G-d’s word from Jerusalem.”

Rabbi Amar’s address emphasized the wondrous fulfillment of G-d’s promise to restore the Jewish People to their land, even in the face of utter despair: “We, those who merit living here today, see this happening to us. Our nation is standing on its feet, like the Dry Bones, taking on ‘skin and sinews,’ waving the banner of Torah and Judaism.”

The Pope responded briefly, saying that “these fruits of the dialogue between our two religions are a great source of satisfaction for me.”

Pope Tells Moslems: No Hatred, Anger or Vengeance
Earlier in the day, the Pope became the first pontiff to visit the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Mosque of Omar, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - Judaism's holiest site in the world. He was hosted there by officials of the Islamic Trust (Waqf), and removed his shoes, in accordance with Islamic tradition.

After meeting there with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Mohammad Hussein, Pope Benedict said that Muslims and Christians would further the “respectful dialogue” they had begun, and delivered a message of "unity and acceptance," saying that because love for G-d and charity towards neighbors are the fulcrum of our existence, "this is why we work untiringly to safeguard human hearts from hatred, anger, or vengeance."

Click for complete coverage of the Pope Israel trip.