Rivka Ravitz, the president and the pope
Rivka Ravitz, the president and the popeHaim Tzah, GPO

Various news sites and social media rumor mills have been spreading a photo of a haredi woman standing grim faced in front of Pope Francis, and telling a story to go along with it. Sopposedly, the woman – Rivka Ravitz, Bureau Chief of President Reuven Rivlin – refused to bow to the pope, because of the cross that was hanging from his neck.

The pope even apologized for the cross and was quick to hide it, according to the tale, after Ravitz explained that she was halachically forbidden to bow to him because of the cross.

The story appears to be largely fictional, however.

The photo, taken by the Government Press Office during President Rivlin's visit to Rome last week, does show Rivka Ravitz, and it does show the pope bowing to her. However, according to a source in the President's Residence, Ravitz did bow to Francis a moment before the photo was taken.

Ravitz – the daughter in law of Rabbi Avraham Ravitz ztz”l, a longtime Knesset member – does not shake hands with male diplomats, because she is observant of halakha (Jewish law).

“All diplomatic personages are made aware of this,” explained the source. “Instead of this there is a small bow. The pope received the same message through his aides. The president told him who she is and said that she is the daughter in law of a great rabbi, as in any presentation of an entourage, and she bowed as she always does on these occasions.”

"It is not true that the pope covered the cross with his hand or apologized, nor is any of the other things having to do with relations between Judaism and Christianity, which have been attributed to the meeting,” the source said. “The pope said nothing and he gave the same bow generally throughout the presentation of the entourage.”