The Chief Rabbinate recently released a statement
against handing over holy sites to the Vatican and right-wing rabbis have called
chief rabbis to boycott a planned meeting with the pope, but shortly before Benedict XVI's arrival in Israel a Rabbinate official decided to come to the Christian leader's defense.
Rabbi David Rosen, an advisor and member of the Chief Rabbinate's inter-religious relations committee and chairman of International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations, stated that the claims made against the pope in the past few days were "unfounded" and slammed the rabbis who voiced them.
Talking to Ynet on Sunday, the rabbi clarified that "this is the same group of accusers from nine years ago, when Pope John Paul II visited. They know nothing about the Church and the changes in its views, and are certainly not ready to accept them."
Rosen, who met with the pope in Rome about two months ago for a "reconciliation meeting" as a member of a Chief Rabbinate delegation, believes that the fact that Benedict was a member of the Hitler youth is insignificant, as "a person recruited against his will to such an organization does become a Nazi."
According to the rabbi, "The only relevant thing is his attitude towards Judaism and Israel, which is consistently very good."
He noted that the current pope had been a member of the Vatican committee which approved the establishment of relations with the Chief Rabbinate, and had even said that he viewed this as "God's work". He had invited rabbis to his predecessor's funeral and to his inauguration ceremony, and met with the Rabbinate's inter-religious committee before meeting with Protestant representatives.
"I don't know what people want from him. No matter what he does, they will always attack him."
Addressing reports that the chief rabbis planned to boycott the reception ceremony
for the pope at Ben-Gurion Airport, Rabbi Rosen said, "This is simply untrue. This was decided a long time ago, together with the Vatican, regardless of the recent protest.
"The idea is to differentiate between the state and religious aspects, between the Vatican as a state and the pope as a religious leader. It's unfitting for the rabbis to take part in the ceremony, and therefore, in order to maintain the Chief Rabbinate's status, they will meet with him at Hechal Shlomo (the Jewish Heritage Center). But how can one say that he is being boycotted?"
The rabbi also presented a softer approach regarding the handing over of holy Christian sites to the Vatican. According to him, this does not mean that Israel would be giving up its sovereignty, but would rather grant a delegation of authority to Christian bodies as given to the Waqf on the Temple Mount. "The question is do we want to run churches," he said.
He does object, however, to changing the status quo at the "Last Supper Room" on Mount Zion, as this is a place which is sacred also to Islam and to other Christian denominations. "I would recommend that we avoid putting our heads in this hornet's nest," he said.
And how does he feel as a rabbi who has to bravely defend a Christian leader like the pope of all people? "It's slightly ridiculous and even kind of embarrassing," he says. "But our Sages of Blessed Memory teach us to tell the truth, and when the facts are distorted and there is slander, I must present things as they are."
Rosen called on his fellow rabbis to give him some credit, noting that "when I think there is room for criticism against the pope I do it fearlessly, and that's how I acted when the Richard Williamson affair began. My declarations were scathing after the Vatican made that mistake, until the pope's No. 2 protested against me. But when we are talking about things that are unfounded, like now, it's just irrelevant."