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Taking Ecumenism Too Far

Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land had a few tense moments. First, he prayed at the graffiti-covered separation barrier (nicknamed the "Apartheid Wall" by the Palestinians and their Western leftist supporters) between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Then, he corrected Bibi Netanyahu about Jesus' native language. Both of these events were widely commented on in the media.

But it was Francis' meeting with the two chief rabbis of Israel and its aftermath that was truly controversial and worthy of note. As numerous traditionalist and sedevacantist Catholics pointed out, Francis tucked in his pectoral cross when meeting with Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef. This is apparently his longtime custom when meeting with rabbis. When he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future pope took off his cross and donned a Judaic skullcap when he celebrated Hanukkah with the local Jewish community.

Understandably, my traditionalist (non-sedevacantist) Catholic friends found Francis' behavior not only troubling, but downright shameful. And as a traditionalist Jew, I perfectly understand them. One cannot imagine even the most liberal Orthodox rabbi taking off his skullcap or black hat to participate in an ecumenical meeting. As Pat Buchanan and other traditionalists have pointed out for years, the post-Vatican II Church, with its addiction to ecumenism and modernism, has been engaging in unilateral disarmament when dealing with other faiths and the world at large.

Not that Francis' efforts to make the rabbis comfortable got him anywhere with the Israeli rabbinical establishment, the same establishment that turns a blind eye to the repeated assaults by yeshiva students on Christian clerics in the Old City of Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, the vociferous and at times, violent Christophobia displayed by so many Orthodox Jews, especially in Israel, is a forbidden topic in American Christian circles. "For fear of the Jews", indeed.

The current chief rabbis are the sons and spiritual successors of former chief rabbis Yisrael Meir Lau (Ashkenazi) and Ovadia Yosef (Sephardic). The elder Lau was angry that Pope Benedict XVI did not sufficiently lower himself about being a German at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial complex. The late Ovadia Yosef, considered by many Sephardic Jews to be the greatest authority on Judaic law of our time, once said the following about the divinely ordained role of Gentiles:  "Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel. Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat. That is why gentiles were created." 

According to Yosef-fils, following his father's custom, he wore a golden replica of the Ten Commandments on his chest while meeting with Pope Francis in order to "offset" the papal pectoral cross. But even this did not satisfy Amnon Yitzhak, a Yemenite rabbi in Israel who is best described as a hybrid between Hezbollah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and the most obnoxious American televangelist you can think of. Yitzhak who previously asserted that it is forbidden for Jewish women to drive, since in the past only men drove carriages, now denounced the chief rabbis for meeting with the pope, calling him an "idol" and a "sheretz" ("ritual impurity"). 

Imagine the outcry if a popular American or European Christian clergyman talked about a rabbi in even remotely similar terms. Abe Foxman, Marvin Hier, and the combined editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post along with the likes of Rich Lowry, David Frum, and Martin Peretz would unleash a tsunami of hysterical denunciations.

But how can Catholics be expected to stand up to their haters when the pontiff himself is going so far in his desire to please non-Catholics, as to hide the main symbol of the Church. Years ago, Pat Buchanan addressed the Cardinal of New York in a similar situation with words that apply perfectly to the current pope:

Be not afraid, Your Eminence; just step aside, there are bishops and priests ready to assume the role of defender of the faith.

Eugene Girin

Eugene Girin is a New York-based attorney and commentator.

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