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New York - No Holds Barred: A Chabad Rabbi Apologizes For Meeting The Pope

Published on: May 16, 2017 01:30 PM
By: Editorial - Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
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New York - Twenty-three years ago, I was forced to resign as Chabad rabbi to the Jewish students at Oxford University. The reason: I had some 5,000 non-Jewish student members of our organization, the Oxford University L’Chaim Society, a fact brought into stark relief through the presidency of an African-American Christian student from New Jersey named Cory Booker.

The decision made by my Chabad superiors had nothing to do with race or religion but was in response to a perceived dilution of Jewish identity in the organization, even as it was eventually emulated throughout the world for its unique ability to instill unbreakable Jewish pride among its students.

If only my Chabad bosses in the UK could see the irony a quarter-century later, where I now have strong differences on Israel with my close friend, now Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, because of his support of the genocidal Iranian government and president Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement, all while Chabad has now embraced booker wholeheartedly as he sets his sites on higher political office.

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The moral of the story is that not every dispute in Chabad is about pure ideology.

Fast-forward a quarter-century and a new Chabad scholar, Rabbi Dovber Pinson, was last week removed from the international roster of emissaries because of a meeting he had with the pope.

By now, many of you might have seen the video of his delegation of hassidic Jews dancing to traditional Jewish tunes in a room with the pope. It reads like a joke, but the video was remarkable. There they were, a slew of black-hatted, bearded men, some wielding guitars while others swayed back and forth, locked arm-in-arm. Together, they were dancing to the traditional melody of “Orech Yamim” as Pope Frances looked on, unable to contain his smile. I’m not sure which was more of a novelty in the Catholic capital, the hassidim or the dancing. In any case, this must have been the first hassidic dance party the papacy had ever witnessed.

I couldn’t help but admire what I saw: the leader of the world’s largest religion looking on at such a powerful display of Jewish joy, charisma and pride.

Apparently, though, some of the very men who organized the meeting went on to utterly denounce it. Rabbi Pinson, a man whom I know and respect, criticized his own initiative. In a statement he said that following “many requests” to “clarify the circumstances surrounding a video that has gone viral, and is a Chilul Lubavitch” – a desecration of the Chabad name – he affirmed that he had received rabbinical permission for the meeting. He continued that he had intended for it to be “private, without music and pomp.” However, he went on, “it didn’t quite turn out that way” and for that, he said, “I apologize.”

When I read the statement, I was confused. What was the scandal? That he had spread the light and joy of the Jewish faith to one of the most prominent men on earth?

The Rebbe’s purpose was to bring Moshiach, the Messiah, which of necessity involves the Jews becoming a light unto the nations. How can that possibly happen if we can’t even talk to the pope of desecrated Jewish cemeteries in Europe, which was one of the topics that delegation discussed?

Do we not say three times a day in the Aleinu prayer that we’re here to “repair the world” and bring “all living flesh to call [God’s] name”? And, if that’s what we’re here for, is there any better place to begin this global mission of spreading God’s light throughout the world than with the leader of the world’s largest faith?

At the helm of world’s single largest religion, Pope Francis commands over 1.2 billion followers. Francis regularly draws crowds that number in the millions for public masses. Two years ago, at a mass in the Philippines, over seven million people turned up, making it one of the largest peaceful gatherings in the history of the world. I myself met both pope Benedict XVI as well as Pope Francis and raised matters pertaining to the dissemination of Jewish values and protecting Israel.

As a Jewish universalist and someone who subscribes wholeheartedly to the Rebbe’s dream of a perfect world, I believe that it is exactly to men of Francis’ standing that we Jews need to display the glories of our faith and the beauty of our tradition.

True, the Lubavitcher Rebbe expressed strong opposition to meeting the pope. But in a direct and public talk on the matter in 1988, his opposition seemed directed clearly at supplicants to the pope. He did not want Jews to meet the pope as inferiors or as suck-ups. He objected to those who kiss the hand and ring of the Catholic leader, implying a subservience.

I am not surprised the Rebbe said this, given that he was the proudest Jew I have ever met.

From what I saw in the recent video, there was nothing weak or subservient in how the Jewish delegation acted. On the contrary, their open singing and dancing of Jewish songs, sung in Hebrew, seemed to be an act of pure Jewish strength and pride in the heart of the Vatican.

Others might base their opposition to the meeting on the horrific treatment of Jews in the past millennia at the hands of the Catholic Church. For much of its history, antisemitism was a fundamental pillar of Catholic ideology and action, and the pope an open enemy of the Jews.

Rabbi Edgar Gluck, Tzvi Gluck and Chabad scholar, Rabbi Dovber PinsonRabbi Edgar Gluck, Tzvi Gluck and Chabad scholar, Rabbi Dovber Pinson

However, even back then, at the height of Catholic Jew-hatred, Jews did not shy away from public meetings with Catholic leaders but actively sought to influence them with the light of Jewish beliefs and values.

Six hundred years ago, when memories of the crusader pogroms were still fresh in the minds of the Jewish community and Jews were still being accused by bishops of killing Christian children and poisoning Christian wells, there’s actually substantial evidence that the Jewish community was actively trying to positively influence Catholic leaders with Jewish values.

In 1307, Rabbi Nathan ben Shmuel Even Tivon of Próvence prayed in his commentary on the Torah (Ve’eschanan 155B), in a section discussing Christianity, that “[God] should give us the strength and the fortitude, the wisdom and the understanding, to bring those who err to recognize the true faith… that God come to be known, without a doubt, to all nations.”

Most amazing, though, is the existence of Jewish texts which imply that the rabbis then were so hopeful of imparting Jewish values to Christians that they may have sparked the Hussite movement of the 15th century, one of the forebears of the Protestant Reformation.

According to Rabbi Zalman of St. Goer, the leading student and compiler of the great Maharil, Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin, it was the Torah commentator and liturgical poet Rabbi Avigdor Karra who first taught Jan Huss, the leader of the Hussite movement, to try and distill his faith. Even more amazingly, he apparently did this through song. In the words of Rabbi Zalman, as printed in the Minhagei Maharil, “[Rav Avigdor Karra] was a composer of songs – in both Hebrew and German – that they [the Hussites] would sing publicly in the streets, such as ‘One, alone, and unified, is God!” (Maharil, Viennese Edition, 144a)

Talk about a fitting precedent. Here we have a rabbi in the 15th century, at the height of Catholic antisemitism, using Jewish song to impart the beauty of the Jewish faith to his Catholic neighbors and their leaders.

Should we behave differently when the Catholic Church has now made a series of phenomenal overtures of friendship to the Jewish people, including by such men as pope John XXIII, greatest of the popes, as well as unyielding friends of global Jewry John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis?

True, there have been recent popes who have betrayed their calling and shamed their office, especially Pius XII, who allowed the Jews of Europe to be exterminated during the Holocaust without ever once publicly protesting. But those popes who are friends of our people must be respected as such.

Rabbi Karra, in the end, seems to have somewhat succeeded. He sparked one of the largest religious movements of the Middle Ages, getting nearly the entire state of Bohemia to renounce all pagan elements of Christianity and embrace a purer form of monotheism.

If he had that impact in the Middle Ages, just imagine the impact we could have now.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America” is the founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including his latest, “The Israel Warriors Handbook.”

The above editorial was reprinted with permission from the author.



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Read Comments (16)  —  Post Yours »

1

 May 16, 2017 at 02:13 PM TrumpISprez4-8 Says:

Jews that meet with muslims who have blood dripping out of their eyes are far worse. Yes Christianity is soaked with jewish blood. That was then. But now Christianity has evolved into a peaceful religion while Islam has moved backwards.

2

 May 16, 2017 at 02:18 PM Ari Davis Says:

Mishichistism is a far bigger "chilul lubavitch" than this meeting with the pope.
Rabbi Pinson is better off not being associated with them.

3

 May 16, 2017 at 02:21 PM Seriously??? Says:

I believe the author has a faulty or selective memory.... he was forced out as a Shliach after a number of inappropriate events portrayed Chabad in a very poor and undeserving light. Having 5,000 non Jews (where did he put them all) as members at a Jewish organization did not help either.

As for meeting the Pope - who is Shmuely Boteach to decide WHAT the Rebbe wanted? The Rebbe certainly did not object to Boteach leaving Oxford. If that would have been the case, he would have been allowed to continue his "shlichus." Meeting the Pope is a no-no, if only for the antisemitic views he has publicly expressed. The Rebbe knew far more than the rest of us put together the damage the Catholic Church & indeed, the Popes, have done and continue to do to Jews.

At every opportunity, Boteach takes another potshot at Chabad. He has never forgiven the "establishment" for his abrupt removal & it kills him that mainstream Chabad wants nothing to do with him. This is just another example of him interfering in and prolonging an internal dispute. It's about time he got rid of that boulder on his shoulder and sticks to writing salacious books and self-promotion. He's very good at the latter.

4

 May 16, 2017 at 02:30 PM GMalka Says:

Reply to #1  
TrumpISprez4-8 Says:

Jews that meet with muslims who have blood dripping out of their eyes are far worse. Yes Christianity is soaked with jewish blood. That was then. But now Christianity has evolved into a peaceful religion while Islam has moved backwards.

Your comment makes me feel much better because I see a relative in that photo.

5

 May 16, 2017 at 02:42 PM favish Says:

such a major undertaking needs the approval of manhigay, gedollai hador not some rabbis boich sevaros

6

 May 16, 2017 at 03:09 PM Anonymous Says:

Shmuley Boteach ought to print a book entitled "The joys of self promotion"
Having said that, what is "chillul lubavitch"?
They are replacing the name of 'ה with lubavitch. Rav Shach was a wise man.

7

 May 16, 2017 at 03:16 PM Frish Says:

Reply to #2  
Ari Davis Says:

Mishichistism is a far bigger "chilul lubavitch" than this meeting with the pope.
Rabbi Pinson is better off not being associated with them.

Sad!! U r extremely ignorant. Its not meschistin thats bitbering u its Lubavitch as a whole. All out of ignorance

9

 May 16, 2017 at 05:54 PM Anonymous Says:

More Chabad publicity stunts. Those guys seem to have a systemic weakness for self-promotion and public relations. Doesn't the very notion of "Chilul Lubavitch" strike you as, uh, odd? Where is the worry of "Chilul HaShem"? Why use a term reserved for only HKBH and Shabbos? We don't even use the term for Torah (ie. Chilul Torah). Am I wrong? Does any normal yid use the term for anything else? What is it about Chabad and their need to for publicity spectacles and PR 'image management'? Just a few days ago we had in New York the Times Square wedding shanda, and now we have Boteach reminding us that, r"l, that stunt wasn't some unique phenomenon.

Over time, I'm not certain their admoor7 will be thought of as an overall positive figure in Jewish history or chassidus. There's just too much negative fallout to his legacy even in the short.

Did you realize what I just did? I thought about Chabad the way I proposed they seem to think about themselves! Their image, their name, their status, their kovod, not Hashem's.

10

 May 16, 2017 at 07:00 PM Anonymous Says:

I don't think rabbi boteach should be giving an opinion regarding visiting the pope, have we not forgotten that he wrote a book titled " kosher Jesus" that was banned by rabonim.

11

 May 16, 2017 at 07:46 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #9  
Anonymous Says:

More Chabad publicity stunts. Those guys seem to have a systemic weakness for self-promotion and public relations. Doesn't the very notion of "Chilul Lubavitch" strike you as, uh, odd? Where is the worry of "Chilul HaShem"? Why use a term reserved for only HKBH and Shabbos? We don't even use the term for Torah (ie. Chilul Torah). Am I wrong? Does any normal yid use the term for anything else? What is it about Chabad and their need to for publicity spectacles and PR 'image management'? Just a few days ago we had in New York the Times Square wedding shanda, and now we have Boteach reminding us that, r"l, that stunt wasn't some unique phenomenon.

Over time, I'm not certain their admoor7 will be thought of as an overall positive figure in Jewish history or chassidus. There's just too much negative fallout to his legacy even in the short.

Did you realize what I just did? I thought about Chabad the way I proposed they seem to think about themselves! Their image, their name, their status, their kovod, not Hashem's.

When your rosh yeshivas son goes on drugs or OTD then you're going to understand exactly what Chabad does.

12

 May 16, 2017 at 10:54 PM Anonymous Says:

It's rav Shach.

13

 May 17, 2017 at 01:57 AM Sholi-Katz Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

Shmuley Boteach ought to print a book entitled "The joys of self promotion"
Having said that, what is "chillul lubavitch"?
They are replacing the name of 'ה with lubavitch. Rav Shach was a wise man.

When R Shach said these things about Lubavitch, he was what you call "the porch light Flickering" he was foaming from the mouth and hardly understandable. He had to be shut down by his very own people.
Do NOT put much into what he said, he had a personal agenda against the Rebbe. I always claimed if he had found out the Rebbe said to learn Rambam he would of "assered" it

14

 May 17, 2017 at 11:01 AM Anonymous Says:

Having some Yidden appear with the current Pope and making a nice impression is the least of the Lubavitchers problems. Their main problem now is having rouge Lubavitcher Rabbis doing whatever they like, such as going to court and being character witnesses for convicted registered sex offenders, making calls to a person's place of employment impersonating someone else. This type of behavior is far far worse, than anything shown here.

15

 May 17, 2017 at 11:09 AM AriLe Says:

Reply to #13  
Sholi-Katz Says:

When R Shach said these things about Lubavitch, he was what you call "the porch light Flickering" he was foaming from the mouth and hardly understandable. He had to be shut down by his very own people.
Do NOT put much into what he said, he had a personal agenda against the Rebbe. I always claimed if he had found out the Rebbe said to learn Rambam he would of "assered" it

As a matter of fact, he did come out against it

16

 May 18, 2017 at 05:11 PM favish Says:

Reply to #13  
Sholi-Katz Says:

When R Shach said these things about Lubavitch, he was what you call "the porch light Flickering" he was foaming from the mouth and hardly understandable. He had to be shut down by his very own people.
Do NOT put much into what he said, he had a personal agenda against the Rebbe. I always claimed if he had found out the Rebbe said to learn Rambam he would of "assered" it

see broches 19a top what happens to people who talk againt g-ds holy servants!

17

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