Monday, March 16, 2009

Pope's Visit To Western Wall Stirs Controversy

Pope Benedict is planning to visit the Western Wall in May. The details of his visit are already sparking controversy. Vos Iz Neias reports as follows.

Jerusalem - Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's May visit to Israel, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, has said that it is not proper to come to the site wearing a cross.

The pope wears a cross in all public appearances and is slated to visit the Western Wall on May 12 after a meeting with Muslim religious leaders at the Dome of the Rock.

After the visit, which will include a meeting with Rabinovitch, the pope is slated to meet with Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.

"My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross," said Rabinovitch in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church."

What is most profoundly disturbing about the plans for the Pope's visit is the proposal to cut off access to the public for the duration of the Pope's visit. Rabbi Rabinovich, noted as follows of the self abasing plans to seal off the Kotel area as follows.

"For the past 42 years, no one has ever been prevented from praying at the Western Wall and, God willing, no one ever will. A solution needs to be reached that provides adequate security for the pope without infringing on the right of everyone to pray. The Western Wall belongs to everyone."

The major concern to me about the Pope's planned visit is that Jewish self respect and respect for G-d be maintained. The Western Wall and the Temple remnants connected to it are our holiest site. It should not be a backdrop for a managed photo op. It should certainly not become a site for a sermon or ceremony being conducted by a representative of another faith. The Western Wall is a Jewish site. If the head of another faith comes to pray there, there should be no cameras and no microphones. There should certainly be no ceremonial garb worn there that is customarily worn during church services. Christian visitors to the Western Wall are not patted down to see if they are wearing crucifixes as a part of their street garb. But it would be gross disrespect to come to the Western Wall dressed in ceremonial garb and conducting a religious service.

I do not doubt that the Pope needs a security detail. If he needs such protection at the Western Wall, he should have it, but not at the expense of Jewish worshippers. For centuries, the Western Wall was treated with contempt by Christians and Muslims alike. The church was silent when the Jordanians built outhouses and shanty towns there. The British used to arrest those who sounded the shofar there. Finally, the Kotel is in Jewish control. It has been cleaned finally of the filth heaped upon it over the centuries of Christian and Muslim silence. The position of the church remains that it should return like an abused wife to "international control" along with the rest of Jerusalem. No thank you. G-d gave us a miracle in 1967. Let us not scorn it.

Banning Jewish worshippers during the Pope's visit is an obscenity. It would be far better to ban cameras and filming. The same policy should be a permanent feature at Yad Vashem. Too many world leaders come and solemnly condemn the Holocaust. They then go and condemn Israel's legitimate efforts to defend its citizens from extermination. Such juxtapositions are permeated with the stench of hypocrisy.

I have little doubt that many gentiles feel a spiritual spark when visiting the Western Wall. Such visitors should be warmly received. But those who come with the pomp of their fame and high position, those who come for a sound bite and a photo op should be firmly rebuffed. If they want majestic backdrops for their pious pronouncements, let them design and build the stage sets for them back home in Rome, Vatican City or Westminster. Jerusalem is not for sale.

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