Rabbis Dancing Around the Pope – Some Thoughts
It was great, yet it was problematic. It was productive, yet it was counterproductive.
“It” is the May 8 meeting of Orthodox Jews with the Pope at the Vatican. Worthy and principal issues of protection of Jewish cemeteries in Europe and of sexual abuse of children were discussed, with a quite positive outcome, it appears. Fantastic. And the Pope’s interest and willingness to assist is immensely respected and appreciated. However, the session ended with the Orthodox delegates performing a song and dance around the Pope, accompanied by guitar music, chanting the verse from Tehillim, “Orech yamim asbi’ehu, v’arehu biyshu’asi” – “For a length of years shall I satiate him, and I will show him my salvation”. (Tehillim 91)
Secular Jewish and non-Jewish media loved the performance, with the Pope in the middle, moving to the Chassidic-style melody. And while we appreciate the goodwill of all people, it is necessary, in particular as a result of the confusion that this musical moment caused for some among Achenu B’nei Yisroel, to clarify and state that the dance session with the Pope, assuredly celebrating a successful meeting on crucial issues, is not something that can be condoned. For aside from the bizarre imagery of rabbis dancing around the chief priest of the Catholic Church, with a large cross hanging down, and a message of salvation being perplexingly associated by rabbis with the head of the Church (not to mention a lively dance to a catchy tune, with instruments no less, during Sefirah), the imagery directs our thoughts to the words of Rav Soloveitchik in Confrontation, the Rav’s essay delineating acceptable parameters for interaction with the Church:
We cannot command the respect of our confronters by displaying a servile attitude.
Although the Rav’s words were stated in the context of offers of compromise on religious tenets, the bottom-line application here is the same.
Many gedolei Yisroel have looked favorably upon interfaith dialogue that focuses on practical matters, such as combating anti-Semitism and pursuing mutual societal objectives; at the same time, gedolei Yisroel have generally rejected interfaith dialogue of a serious theological nature. Please carefully read the words of Confrontation, where the Rav presents and strongly maintains this approach. It is thus distressing to read that this boundary was seemingly breached during the May 8 meeting, notwithstanding the meeting’s apparently very positive character regarding other issues.
Several years ago, I co-authored an article about a progressive Orthodox and Open Orthodox delegation participating in a major interfaith program in the Galil. Please also see this article about an unrelated and quite controversial interfaith statement by this same general group, and Dr. David Berger’s remarks about this interfaith statement in section IV here. While I feel that the specific interfaith endeavors of this progressive/Open Orthodox group pose a far greater danger than that of the group which met with the Pope on May 8, as evidenced by the former group’s unprecedented statements about the Christian faith as well as by the fact that this group’s interfaith involvement is reflective of a broader hashkafic movement, in contrast with the latter group’s one-time and isolated actions, some of the actions of the latter group clearly crossed a red line, and something needs to be said.
Firstly, I do hope you understand that readers are not clicking “here” and “here” and “here” so that they may be privileged to achieve the lofty level of understanding collectively contained in this beautiful mosaic of wisdom.
Even if all the necessary information were contained in this article, it would likely be buried among incoherent sentences such as this:
“While I feel that the specific interfaith endeavors of this progressive/Open Orthodox group pose a far greater danger than that of the group which met with the Pope on May 8, as evidenced by the former group’s unprecedented statements about the Christian faith as well as by the fact that this group’s interfaith involvement is reflective of a broader hashkafic movement, in contrast with the latter group’s one-time and isolated actions, some of the actions of the latter group clearly crossed a red line, and something needs to be said.”
This sentence makes no sense. Rather than attempt to point out the issues to a qualified writer such as yourself, I would leave it to you for review, which I assume would mark the first time this text was reviewed by its author.
I mean no disrespect. I merely wish to ensure that judgmental statements about a group of people who represent no one are presented with the integrity they deserve.
Not sure what the problem is, Mr. Bergman. I didn’t have any problems understanding any of the R’ Gordimer’s sentences in this article. And I think he is making a very good point. I just wish he made it stronger. But, following his writings over the last three years or so, I already came to a conclusion that R’ Gordimer likes understatements. Perhaps a good quality in someone who writes for the public.
I agree with R Gordimer and R Adlerstein. The acid and litmus tests that R Adlerstein mentioned from R YBS and R Shmuel Kamenetsky Spoke at to have been utterly violated. One wonders whose “Daas Torah” was consulted in this spectacle. While R Gluck is a wonderful shtadlan in the Charedi world and his son has a great missed in Amudim the issue of who engages in any ecumenical dialogue and how it is done may be beyond their skill set. Niggunim and dancing before the head of the RCC definitely have an apologetic odor to them as opposed to what RYBS and R Shmuel Kamenetsky spelled out.
Secular people for sure loved this spectacle. Its also only secular people who have “COEXIST” bumper stickers in an array of religious symbols. Its easy to be open minded about something when the whole things a joke.
All this reminds me of the video a few years ago of the orthodox yeshivah student playing games with the Honor Guard outside Buckinham Palace. Some people thought it was hysterical. But those with a better sense of history understood that the English people would find it terribly offensive – a Jew mocking one of their hallowed institutions. Just so. I guarantee you there are Catholics all over the world silently seething at what they just saw. Would an Agudah member think it cute if a group of Southern Baptists formed a chanting revivalist circle around any of its Moetzes members? People just don’t think. One can debate the concept of ecumenical meetings. But on such frivolity there is no debate.
“For aside from the bizarre imagery of rabbis dancing around the chief priest of the Catholic Church, with a large cross hanging down, and a message of salvation being perplexingly associated by rabbis with the head of the Church . . . “
Crosses do present a halachic issue, but I would say most of our instinctive aversion to a cross comes from its historic association with anti-Semitism in Europe than from purely halachic considerations. It’s similar to the practice of saying kaddish for someone who married a Christian in Europe – it is sociologically and historically understandable, but it has nothing to do with halacha.
Is it possible that you don’t understand the particulars of the situation, and that armchair poskining and flame-warring– so common in our age, but extra sad among Jews–is the real way we are becoming “servile”?
I’m not sure I agree. Personally I was so nauseated by the video I had to shut it off after a few seconds. But my visceral reaction is not the issue. I am not an expert on Halacha but I am reasonably sure this crossed the line of Chanifa (flattery).
Bravo, Rabbi Gordimer, for speaking out in protest of the fiasco shown in the video.
I think it is quite premature to label the encounter as “great”, or “fantastic”. We can only judge the results, if any, later, with the passing of time. Until then, it seems that there are only words, and PR. We need to keep our eye on the ball, and look for concrete fruit in the future.
One newspaper writer and internet commentator, in defending this event, tried to give the impression that such meetings are not remarkable. He went on to cite less than ten such examples over a period of around nine hundred years to support his case. To me that shows the opposite, that they are not typical, nor ordinary.
Such meetings, like meetings with head of states, are summit meetings. At summits, experienced hands are to be used. Not inexperienced amateurs.
There should be a sense of koved rosh, gravity, seriousness, as well. Unfortunately, in this case, based on the video, it seems that koved rosh was lacking on the Jewish side, and instead was displayed by the pope. How sad.
Isn’t playing musical instrument s forbidden during this part of sefiras haOmer? No matter which “part” you hold by? Isn’t one of the reasons for the mourning period because the massacres of Jews during the Crusades? And would this same delegation sing and dance with such fervor on Yom Ha’Atzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim? The irony is almost too much to take.
I don’t believe that these individuals were bothered by some halakhic niceties. they had a mission – the preservation of graves – that they felt trumped what has developed over time – the various minhagei sefirah. was there behavior a bit odd in the eyes of many, undoubtedly. but i would not seek their advice on the proper etiquette various situations require. this was not ecumenical dialogue, but a meeting of a set of folks on a mission following up on the pope’s assurance of support. much ado about nothing, imho.
if you want to quote the Rav ztl properly in this instance, perhaps “it’s assur to do stupid things” fits the bill.
Regarding the cross hanging around the Pope’s neck, I am reminded of an interesting thing I read in the book “Adass Yeshurun of Cologne” written by Rabbi Alexander Carlebach. The book came out around 50 years and gave the history of the Austritt/Separatist Orthodox congregation of Cologne. The book pointed out that in the 1920’s the Rav of the congregation had a very good relationship with the Catholic Archbishop of Cologne, and when they would meet, the Archbishop would put his cross inside his coat so it wouldn’t be visible. I find this sort of pre-Holocaust gesture in Germany of all places to show a Christian individual who was truly committed to being concerned with the feelings of the Jews of his city. It is unfortunate that in our post-Holocaust, pro-ecumenical world, that the current pope did not show similar sensitivity.
Two articles on this, and I’m really not clear on what line was crossed or what damage was done. Some assert that “Niggunim and dancing before the head of the RCC definitely have an apologetic odor to them” while others state completely incompatibly that “Catholics all over the world [are] silently seething at what they just saw”.
Based on the press accounts, there was absolutely no theological dialog going on, so all the citation of the Rav’s limitations on them seem completely out of place. They needed help with a problem that they thought the Pope could help with. What could be impermissible or improper about asking for such help?
Overally, the reaction seems to be a confirmation of Sayre’s law: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”
It’s not always so wise to play the role of the wise centrist who, alone, is able to see clearly what the benighted fools cannot. Are you not aware that it is possible for two conflicting feelings to exist simultaneously? Moreover, the Wikipedia “law” you cite would mean that the Oslo accords – in which hundreds of thousands of Jews passionately demonstrated, with intense feeling – was basically much ado about nothing. Same with the Vietnam war – it aroused intense feelings on both sides, so according to your “law”, it must mean the issues at stake meant nothing. Why don’t you go to the families of the terrorist victims, and the soldiers who came home in body bags, and share this bit of wisdom with them?
I wasn’t playing centrist. Rabbi Gordimer, to his credit, does try to take a centrist position, here: he is not comfortable with the video, but understands the reason for the visit and that it appears to have been beneficial otherwise. I’m being a relative “extremist”: I fail to see the problem and the articles and comments aren’t doing a very good job of articulating what it is.
I don’t think that anyone is benighted, but I do think that that lots of scorn is being heaped on someone based on a variety of visceral reactions of a contradictory nature. I think that fits Sayre’s law well. Obviously you are correct that it is not a law at all and is not not universally applicable and doesn’t in anyway provide evidence for my point. It is just a shorthand summary for what appears to be going on here.
But to follow up on your comparisons: we understand what was at stake with Oslo and the Vietnam war. There seems to be little to nothing at stake here.
I do not know how this publication justifies articles like this. Your many readers are all debating whether or not these peoples actions were sanctioned by Halacha yet they have no qualms with lashon hara. The people in the video may have “transgressed” some hashkafic boundaries, while the author and the self righteous commenters show a complete disregard for the tens of issurei d’Orayta of LH & rechilus. The people in this video do not represent anyone. There actions are inconsequential, and thus have no business being umder your unathourotative and insignificant scrutiny.
The Chofetz Chaim made clear what constitutes lashon hara and rechilus and under what exact circumstances, You ought to make sure that your attacks on others are holy and not the opposite.
And a socialist pope at that. A lawyer friend of mine once joked that he planned to sue for the return to Israel of stolen Jewish treasures held by the Vatican. That makes more sense than this gratuitous flattery. The meeting agenda itself should have been cleared in advance with Gedolim familiar with the issues involved.
I don’t know whether the Pope is Socialist or not — neither the Catholic nor the Jewish tradition is enamored of laissez-faire — but he did reverse 1900 years of supercessionist theology in a way that is favorable to Jews. See paragraph 247:
The revolutionary nature of this statement has not been adequately appreciated.
Whatever happened to respecting the gedolei hador of the recent past and even of today who put a prohibition of having any religious dialogues with them? This was a shanda!
Various gedolei hador have different views on this issue of what religious dialogue is and what is prohibited. Certainly, IMO they all agree that we don’t negotiate our various faith commitments. Discussions between various communities and exact details is a complex issue certainly according to the Rav. Making shibboleths can be misleading. For what it’s worth my personal opinion that much of what passes for inter religious dialogue is a negative for us, but that is my personal worry about effectiveness not an absolute prohibition in all cases. Similar to my cynicism on activists looking for press publicity, probably the likelihood of anything interfaith being positive and worthwhile are probably inversely correlated with the publicity attached to Ihe interfaith activity,