While foreign media news reports appear to indicate that the
chareidi community is "critical" of the pope's visit, the
truth is that it is far more likely to be apathetic,
according to representatives of Am Echad. The group held a
press conference to explain their attitude toward the head of
the Roman Catholic Church.
"The main body [of the chareidi community] is not concerned
with the visit," said Rabbi Aharon Feldman, head of the Be'er
Hatorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem. "They are not like secular Jews
who find their Jewish identification with what non-Jews think
Rav Feldman did indicate there were elements of the visit
with which chareidim might take offense, but he said there
was unlikely to be any great outcry. For example, he said,
the Kosel Hama'arovi is a synagogue, and as such he would
prefer the pope not to wear his cross there.
"It would be offensive for him to come to the Kosel
with the cross," Rav Feldman said. However, he added that no
request was made to ask the pope to remove it, and if he did
not do so there would be no protests.
Rav Feldman said that in his view there was no point in any
theological discussion between Jews and Christians, and he
believed that in their meeting, the pope and the two chief
rabbis would be more likely to discuss how to reduce
antisemitism and injustice in the world.
He added that while he and his colleagues were happy about
the present pope's efforts to reduce anti-Jewish feelings
among Catholics, they saw little significance in such papal
statements as referring to the Jews as "our elder
"We, all mankind, are brothers. We are all equal brothers,"
Rav Feldman said.
United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Avraham Ravitz told the
assembled journalists that he had little fear that the pope's
visit would be an occasion for missionary activities. In any
case, he added, it was the Protestants who were more active
in this respect in recent years, although it is possible that
a few extreme Catholics would feel called upon to use the
visit to try to convert Jews.
"If you would ask me what the pope should say, it would be
that each man should live according to his faith," Rabbi
As to how the Chief Rabbis should treat the visit, Rabbi
Ravitz said that from the point of view of the chareidi
community, it appeared as if Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael
Lau and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron were overly
eager. They "too much wanted such a meeting to take place,"
At the same time, he added that it was true that their role
was to reduce antisemitism in the world.
As for chareidi objections to the massive chillul
Shabbos that would take place because of the pope's
visit, Rabbi Ravitz said that he and his colleagues
understood that for health reasons it was impossible for the
pope to stay overnight in Nazareth, where he is saying mass
On the other hand, he also noted that when he had brought up
the subject with Vatican officials, they told him that the
issue had not been raised by the Israeli government.