Popeful in the Holy Land


With Pope Benedict XVI in Israel this week, only the third pope in history to visit the Holy Land, the country has got a case of pontiff fever. JTA will have full coverage of the papal visit later in the week, but in the meantime here’s how three leading rabbis are greeting Benedict.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, the chief rabbi of Haifa urged Benedict to help protect Israel from its enemies:

I do hope now to get your help as a religious leader – as well as the help of the entire free world – to protect, defend and save Israel, the one and only sovereign state of the "People of the Book" from the hands of its enemies.

I am sure that you will use this trip to reiterate these points in public and show your sincerity at a time when media exposure is high and the eyes of the world are upon you. God has given you a unique opportunity.

Writing in the L.A. Times, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier, recounts a disturbing history of church-sanctioned anti-Semitism, before concluding:

On the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, Jews around the world need to acknowledge that the Catholic Church of 2009 is no longer the same institution it was under Pius XII. Jews and Catholics may have their differences, but Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem confirms that the Catholic Church, once a main source of anti-Semitism, is today an important voice in validating the Jewish people’s right to fulfill a historic and spiritual destiny.

And in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, the chancellor of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Norman Lamm, says little of consequence should be expected from the papal visit.

"The pope is an intellectual and as such there is a subtext to his behavior," he said. "His interests are primarily theological. Nothing of great consequence could come of the visit. He is not that kind of person."

Lamm said the pope’s emphasis on intellectual matters and his lack of interest in political issues led to an imbroglio with Jewish leadership.

Last January the pope reinstated several rebel bishops who had been banned from the Church for their conservative opinions. One of the bishops was Richard Williamson, a known Holocaust denier.

"That [his emphasis on intellectuality] is how he got in trouble lifting the herem on that bishop," Lamm said.

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