An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

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Sent to Pope Benedict XVI via email:

Your Holiness,

I was disturbed to read in the Jerusalem Post this morning that Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch has said you should remove your cross when you visit the Western Wall.

Like Rabbi Rabinovitch, I am a rabbi.  Unlike Rabbi Rabinovitch, I have no problem whatsoever with you wearing a cross or other symbols of your faith and/or office when you visit Judaism's holiest site.  I think it is utterly inappropriate that Rabbi Rabinovitch would even ask you to remove your cross, and I am embarrassed that he did so.

Rabbi Rabinovitch does not seem to understand that while to some Jews the cross symbolizes centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution, to Christians the cross symbolizes Jesus' love for mankind and willingness to sacrifice himself.  To ask you to remove your cross would be to ask you deny who you are and what you believe, and would be an insult not just to you, but to billions of Christians worldwide.

In the Jerusalem Post article Rabbi Rabinovitch is quoted as saying "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."  Rabbi Rabinovitch's comparison is totally inaccurate.  Tallit and phylacteries are not part of the usual garb of Jews; these days we only use them when praying, and when I was invited to a prayer service in a church I did wear my tallit, at the request of the priest who was organizing the service.  A better comparison is to the yarmulke, the skull cap that observant Jews normally wear.  While I remove a hat when entering a church, I do not remove my yarmulke, and I expect Rabbi Rabinovitch would not either.  For me the yarmulke is a symbol of who am I, and in particular when I am visiting space that is sacred to another faith I feel more comfortable having that reminder of my own faith on my head.  I suspect the same is true for Catholics or others who visit my holy places, that they find the presence of the cross a comforting reminder of their own faith.

I pray that Rabbi Rabinovitch learns tolerance and sees the error of his hurtful remarks.  More than tolerance, may your visit contribute to acceptance of each other.  Back in the 18th century, a Christian asked Rabbi Moses Mendolssohn "how can your religion be correct if my religion is correct?"  His response was that there is one pasture, but many gates.  Or as your scripture puts it, "In my father's house there are many rooms."  May your visit help people realize that is OK for people to come to God via different gates, to dwell in different rooms, but we are united in a desire to serve our Creator by making the world a better and more peaceful place.

With blessings of peace,

Rabbi Barry Leff
Jerusalem

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2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

  • March 17, 2009 at 11:20 am
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    Damn straight, you go boy!

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  • March 22, 2009 at 1:50 pm
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    I agrre with the substance of your letter but at present I would find it very hard to write to Pope Benedict.

    Reply

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