Pope Benedict XVI has a visit to the Western Wall scheduled in May. That's a section of the Temple enclosure that the Romans didn't raze during their response to the Great Revolt, or המרד הגדול, or ha-Mered Ha-Gadol, or whatever.
A little backstory: some Jews got fed up with being in the Roman Empire in the sixties, and revolted. The Roman Emperor didn't like that, so he sent Titus and a few units of the Roman army to sort out the situation. When the dust settled, Jerusalem was in serious need of repair, invincible Masada had been conquered, and the descendants of Israel were facing the start of a rather rough two millennia.
Not that this century is any bed of roses.
Where Was I? Oh, Right: The Pope is Coming to the Western WallPope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall in 2000, and left a written prayer in one of the cracks. He was wearing - prepare for a shock - a cross!!!
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch doesn't like crosses. I can see his point. At least two times, according to the Jerusalem Post, "Christian clergy wearing crosses" wouldn't let him approach the Western Wall. The article didn't say why they barred access to Rabinovitch.
Rabbi Rabinovitch isn't narrow-minded about his no-religious-symbol preference. " '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.'..." (JP)
Speaking for myself, I wouldn't mind someone showing up at Mass wearing a four-cornered prayer shawl (טַלִּית comes into English as talit, tallis, and probably more). But then, I'm aware that I worship a Jew, and grew up in the (nineteen) sixties - with the laid-back attitude toward dress codes that came with the period. Receiving the Host is another matter - for another post.
Rabi Rabinovitch's preferences make a difference, since he's the man responsible for religious decorum at the site.
And, he doesn't like crosses.
He didn't let the Austrian bishops, led by the Archbishop of Vienna, near the Western Wall, since they wouldn't remove their crosses. That was in November of 2007.
Again, Rabi Rabinovitch has a perfectly good reason for his 'no cross' rule. He explained that " 'crosses are a symbol that hurt Jewish feelings.' " (JP)
The Cross is Part of the Pope's UniformA cross is as much a part of the Pope's uniform, as an eagle is part of an American Air Force General's. And, with due respect to the American armed forces, the chain of command that the Pope's in goes a bit higher than the Oval Office.
As the media coordinator for the papal visit to the Holy Land, Wadie Abunassar, put it, " 'I cannot imagine the Holy Father removing his cross.' "
"Feelings, Wo-Oh-Oh Feelings"Feelings are important. Albert Morris made a whole song about them.
Rabi Rabinovitch's feelings and position against the display of religious symbols" isn't absolute. A quick look at one of the webcams at the Western Wall will probably show a number of men whose beards and distinctive headgear identify them as devout followers of a particular sort of Judaism. But maybe those aren't "religious" symbols.
The point is that Rabi Rabinovitch's dislike of religious symbols is rather well-focused. There's a history here. Over the last two millennia, some people who said they were Christian were definitely jerks. Or worse.
Although I don't think that Rabi Rabinovitch would agree with the fellow who informed me that "Jews were kicked out of Israel by the Romans in the name of Christianity." (I am not making this up), I do think that he's got an alternatively-sensible view of the world.
I also think that, sometime in May, the Pope will be called anti-Semitic, or insensitive, or something like that.
The Cross is an important symbol to Catholics, and to Christians in general. I'm genuinely sorry that Rabi Rabinovich feels bad when he sees a cross, but I also think that his position is mostly the result of a snit over turf.
If he wants to play tit-for-tat with the "Christian clergy wearing crosses" who were mean to him, that's his problem. And theirs.
But what Rabi Rabinovich is doing now looks like 'getting even' with the Pope, over a neighborhood feud.
More-or-less related posts:
- "Who Knew? Assertions, Assumptions and Assorted Weirdness from All Over"
(March 7, 2009)
- "Nero Was Working for the Christians: Who Knew?"
Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 22, 2008)
- "Western Wall rabbi says pope should not wear cross at site"
Jerusalem Post (March 17, 2009)
- " 'Western Wall' or 'Wailing Wall'? "
Jewish Virtual Library
- "Window on the Wall"
Webcam at aish.com
- "Glossary of Hebraic & Jewish Terminology"
- "Glossary - Mourning Customs | Shiva"
Goldsteins' Rosenberg’s Raphael-Sacks Inc.