A controversy has erupted over the request by the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, that Pope Benedict XVI take off his cross before a visit to the wall in May. Rabinovitch stated “My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross. I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church.”
Actually, asking someone to remove a cross is more like asking them remove yamaka in a church, which would be an outrageous demand. As someone raised as a Catholic, I would also never ask a Jewish person to remove a tallit or phylacteries.
In 2000, Pope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall without removing his cross. Rabinovitch has made headlines in recent years by blocking clergy wearing crosses.
In November 2007, he blocked a group of Austrian bishops led by the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, stating that “crosses are a symbol that hurt Jewish feelings.” That seems less of a view of religion than prejudice. I am married to a Jewish woman as is one of my brothers and they clearly do not view crosses in such a way. I would view a Jewish person praying in a church to be a sign of respect and interfaith connection.
It seems to me that the symbol of intolerance in this controversy is Rabbi Rabinovitz as when he barred access in May 2008 to a group of Irish prelates from both Catholic and Protestant churches. The Rabbi has converted a symbol of faith and tolerance into a place of exclusion and prejudice. I would be interested in hearing particularly from our Jewish bloggers as to whether Rabbi Rabinovitz’s views are shared by the mainstream of the Jewish community.
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