Meeting With the Pope: A Halachic Analysis

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[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times]

Recently, Rabbi Edgar Gluck, his son Rabbi Tzvi Gluck, Rav DovBer Pinson, and a number of other prominent Orthodox individuals and Rabbis met with the Pope to discuss a number of important issues to the Jewish community. These issues included arranging proper kevurah for some unyet buried victims of the holocaust.

The meeting caused turmoil among some who believe that this was a misguided effort and that, in fact, it is forbidden to meet with the pope. To back up their point, some referenced various writings and responsum from both the Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m and from Rav Moshe Feinstein ob”m. Nowhere in the responsum that were quoted, was there any indication that there is a prohibition in meeting with the Pope for a legitimate concern. Indeed, the animadversions that Rav Feinstein was referring to involved joining up Jews and Catholics together in some sort of joint religious venture. It is true, however, that teh Lubavitcher Rebbe seems to be attacking people who have run after the Pope unnecessarily, but it is unclear as to the exact context of what he is referring to. There were many times in the past when people sought audiences for unnecessary reasons. One of the Rabbis here, however, was Lubavitch and it is likely that he sought guidance from Lubavitch Rabbis as well.

What follows, however, is an analysis of this topic.

Meeting with the Pope for matters of shtadlanus has been accepted practice in the Chassidic world, in the Litvish world, and in the Sephardic world since time immemorial. But first we will discuss the various Torah Mitzvos that are fulfilled in this type of Shtadlanus.

HASHAVAS AVEIDAH

One basic Mitzvah is that of saving lives. As we will see, this was the major motivation in meetings with past popes. What is the source of this Mitzvah? The verse in Parshas Ki Taytzai (Dvarim 22:2) discusses the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida – returning an object with the words, “Vahashaivoso lo – and you shall return it to him.” The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (73a), however, includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “Vahashaivoso lo.” In other words, this verse is the source for the Mitzvah of saving someone’s life. It is highly probable that it is to this general Mitzvah that the Shulchan Aruch refers to in Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 325.

LO SAAMOD AL DAM RAYACHA

There is a negative Mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well. This is mentioned both in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam. Clearly, in the post Crusades world and after World War II, this was the motivation.

LO SUCHAL LEHISALAIM

There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of Hashavas Aveida, and that is the verse in Dvarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek Sheailah) refers to this Mitzvah as well.

V’CHAI ACHICHA IMACH

The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 62a, understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others with you. The Netziv in his He’Emek She’ailah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life – until it becomes Pikuach Nefesh for himself. This was clearly the motivation to meet with the pope throughout our history.

V’AHAVTA LERAYACHA KAMOCHA

The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (p42-43) understands the verse of “And love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is an example, and it would apply to danger from physical enemies as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from danger is a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.

BAAL SHEM TOV

The Baal Shem Tov is cited in Chassidic works as encouraging the practice (See Niflaos HaRebbi #387) in an incident with R’ Koppel. The maaseh is cited in numerous places (See, for example, Talpios Vol. VII p. 189, Toldos Rav Yitchok MiKemarnah p. 26).

Rabbi Abba Zions z”l, a brilliant Talmud Chochom, an exceptional scholar, and an Alter Mirrer whom I was close with, had written an introduction and biographical sketch to the latest edition of the Paneach Raza, by the Rishon, Rabbeinu Yitzchok Bar Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi. He writes how it was Reb Tzaddok haKohain’s view that Rabbi Nosson Officialo had met and debated with Pope Gregory X in 1273.

Of course, Jewish leaders have been meeting with the pope long before then. After the First Crusade massacres, there were continued threats of violence against European Jewish communities. Jewish leaders met with Pope Calixtus II who consequently issued Sicut Judaeis in about 1123. In this document, Pope Calixtus II urged all European communities to protect their Jews.

Rabbi Dovid Rofeh D’pumis, author of Tzemach Dovid and a descendant of the Aruch, met with Pope Paul the IV and succeeded in convincing him to rescind decrees against the Jews. Indeed, he dedicated his sefer to Pope Sixtus the Fifth.

Moses Montefiore, apparently with full Rabbinic approval, attempted to meet with the pope to remove the blame on the Jews on the tombstone of Thomas. He was not allowed entry.

RAV HERZOG

In June of 1944, Rav Yitzchok Herzog attempted to meet with the Pope to prevent further Jewish casualties, but the pope refused to meet with him. After World War II, in Adar Alef of 1946, the Rav Herzog left Lod airport to meet eventually with the Pope (Pius XII). He was accompanied to the airport on his mission to save the Jewish children that were saved were to be found in Catholic orphanages and missions. Rav Yitzchok Herzog met with the Pope in the Vatican in order to arrange their freedom. Otherwise, no Catholic institution would have released them.

Unfortunately, the response was a rather cynical one. Pope Pius XII asked Rav Herzog to provide him with a list of names of the children.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Toras Menachem Sicha Vol. XI p. 161 seems to cite approvingly the story of Rav Shlomo Molcho who refused to return to the Catholic Church and died a martyr’s death al Kiddush Hashem. He had met with the Pope, which the Lubavitcher Rebbe does not seem to view negatively.

Rav Yisroel Meir Lau as chief Rabbi of Israel also met with the pope in an attempt to retrieve the kailim of the Bais HaMikdash. Rav Ovadiah Yoseph met with the Pope as well, as well as his son Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the current Chief Rabbi of Israel.

VATICAN COUNCIL II

This author posed the question to several Gedolei Torah in regard to whether the Rabbis in the late 1950’s and 1960’s were correct in their efforts to get the Catholic Church to abandon anti-Semitic attitudes and teachings in what became known as Vatican Council II. The unequivocal answer was yes.

These people who met with the pope should be applauded for their efforts on behalf of Klal Yisroel.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com




28 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Rabbi Hoffman…………

    Moderators Note: Since you decided to publicly shame Rabbi Hoffman we deleted your comment. You hide behind a screename, while he proudly uses his name and email address. His contact is at the bottom of all his articles. We suggest you contact him directly – you can ask him Mehcilla as well as making your point.

  2. 1 chilul shabos in eretz yistoel is worse the meeting the pope 100 time. Chilul shabos in eretz yisroel should make a lot
    more headlines then meeting the pope.

  3. I cannot believe my eyes.
    Is this what we have resorted to? How did our beautiful and proud nation, which has withstood centuries of prosecution and oppression at the hands of these “holy” people- crusades, pogroms, blood libels, the Inquisition, the holocaust (!)- reach such a low point?! How can it be that children of the same people who (literally!) bit off their own fingers so as not to play the precious Jewish melodies from the Beis HaMikdash to their oppressors on a foreign land take part in such a shameless and twisted display of flattery? How can you dance and sing Psukkim from our Torah in front of a man who represents a religion which your ancestors gave up their lives to stay away from?! The same Torah, by the way, warns us against exactly this situation- “Lo techunem”, “Lo tachanifu”… Our grandparents from Spira, Vermiza and Magenza, who sacrificed themselves in order to stay true to their religion and their god during this time period are probably rolling in their graves! Not to mention the fact that this is not all a story of the past- not at all! The man before whom you are dancing continues to represent all that is backwards and morally wrong and will admit proudly to an agenda of missionizing your fellow Jews.
    How can you sleep at night knowing the great wrong you have done to your people and their history??? HOW?

  4. Will you defend the joy, “simcha” and admiration that is visibly seeping from many of those in the video?
    Absolutely sickening.
    There is many things wrong with this meeting and most of your comparisons are inaccurate matches to this situation.
    With all due respect.

  5. there is nothing wrong with meeting with the pope if their is a potential that it will be for the good of clall yisroel
    and im not second guessing the esteemed Rabbi Gluck who has done immeasurable good for the clall

    HOWEVER
    to sing out of all songs “orech Yamim” for this “avi avos hatumah”
    is a chillul hashem of great proportions

    i welcome all comments

  6. The Lubavitcher Rebbes opinion on this is not as written in the article, in fact the Lubavitcher Rebbe was very disapproving of meeting with the pope. The Rebbes opinion can be seen here in a public talk decrying these meetings https://youtu.be/8ct2-nl9x9c

  7. I do not protest the meeting of shtadlonus with the pope. Nor anything else that took place during the meeting if it was approved by daas Torah. However I do resent very much the very unholy pictures! Why do we need to see that on a frum yeshivish site! Again I say please get rid of it asap!!!

  8. as Sechel hayoshor just wrote – I will add it has been more than one time that the Rebbe spoke up against the meetings. one was on the 6th of Tishrei 5748/late 1987 and more. One only needs to check the index opf the Rebbe’s 40 years of talks and will see the facts very clearly

  9. With all due respect to the Melech hamoshiach, who cares what the Lubavitcher Rebbe said besides Lubavitcher Chassidim? Since when was he a universally accepted posek? He wasn’t. Rav Moshe was, Rav Ovaia was.

    Rabbi Hoffman is 100% correct. The teshuva from Rav Moshe was misread. it was about “joining up Jews and Catholics together in some sort of joint religious venture”.

    Rav Ovadia met with more than one Pope.

    Let Chabad deal with their own borderline avoda zara going on. Vehamayvin yavin. One needs to just take a peek into 770 and watch them give the Rebbe an aliya on Shabbos. No this is not a joke. So please stop bringing us proof from what goes on in Chabad.

  10. Shtadlonus is one thing. Dancing and singing around him as if he were a sefer torah lehavdil elef alfei havdolos is quite another. It is a drastic chilul hashem and lack of regesh for the last two thousand years of jewish history. Absolutely appalling.

  11. inthenameofsanity and Chochom-ibber,
    This situation is very different to that which you describe. The current pope happens to be very respectful of Jews and the Jewish nation. I’m not saying we must serenade him as we see in these clips, but it’s not the same as flattering one who is trying to convert us.

    Tipshis, Please please please keep your tipshus and sin’as chinom to yourself.

  12. Everyone can follow their own Gedolim. I have no problem with that. However when the writer attempts to give the Lubavitcher Rebbes opinion and states: “He had met with the Pope, which the Lubavitcher Rebbe does not seem to view negatively.” I take issue with that, as the Rebbe zy”a publicly came out against meeting with the pope on several occasions.
    And R’ Tipshus, your name speaks for itself​.

  13. Dear “Ferd”,
    Isn’t it amazing how those who express so much Sinas chinam against Gedolei Yisroel no less always have an appropriate name? For example “Tipshus” and “Ferd”. Debate is always a good thing, but there is no place for ” לא נהגו כבוד זה בזה”. This should be מובן מאליו especially as we are now in a period of availus due to the behavior of תלמידי ר”ע.

  14. tipshis
    your hate for lubabvitch comes through loud and clear

    i would be very careful about belittling a rebbe of that stature

  15. Is there a reason to wear a shtreimel for the pope?

    I hear a tie and suit, even a frock, but bigdei Shabbos and Yom Tov? For the pope?

  16. it seems that people who accuse others (as Chabad) of what is written here, dont even realize what actually this event or get together. the geon Yaakov, as the Rebbe – who always hit the nail on its head. One cannot express statement quoting the Rebbe until he studies the Rebbe’s views on this topic thoroughly.

  17. The point about the shtreimel is right on point. It shows that the whole thing was …… DELETED.

    Moderators Note: Just curious….Chanoch, what gives you the heter to hide behind your screename and bash rabbi Gluck by name? Some Rabbi-attorney you are. But I see who your friends are on Facebook….like the evil blogger whose own son was just arrested for credit card fraud to the tune of 25 million dollars.

  18. Mr/Rabbi Moderator What does being “arrested” show ? My point was that nobody appointed Rabbi Gluck or any of his other companions representatives for Klal Yisroel on cemeteries or any other matter.

  19. Obviously if pikuach nefesh is involved one may meet the pope. If the pope is the best person to accomplish some other mitzvah, again no problem. The problem would be if the dog is not wagging the tail, but rather the tail is wagging the dog. Let’s meet the pope because it’s very exciting to do so. The Vatican is a great venue to visit as a tourist. It’s not accessible to most. The pope was quoted as saying that he has a zero tolerance policy towards abuse. On the surface this segues nicely with one of the purported purposes of the meeting. However, our children are not the ones being abused by the people of the church. Nice headline, but no halachik bang for your buck.
    Bottom line, if in their hearts, the true purpose was to resolve issues for klal yisrael that only he can solve, great and thank you. If the true inner purpose was to meet the pope and the heter was some contrived mitzvah, then, FEH.

  20. The degree of sinas chinam and ignorance expressed here is astounding. The chashuve rabbonim and askanim in this delegation did not present themselves as shalichim from all of klal yisroel nor did the engage in a dialogue on matters of Halacha. They had a discrete set of issues of importance to them including a desire to promote better relationships with the Catholic Church as an institution representing over a billion people and with great influence on what happens in EY. When a group of goyish religious leaders make visits to the chief rabbonim in EY they are dressed in their full regalia. (If I recall correctly, it was Rav Rabinowitz who objected to the Pope wearing his big yarmulke and tzemel when he was going to visit the Kosel). Yet, some of the above posters make it sound like Rav Gluck’s colleagues were engaged in some form of minstrel show for the Pope’s amusement. These mindless comments about Rav Gluck, Rav Hoffman and the Rav MMS, (aka the Rebbe) Z’tl, should be deleted (as the Moderator has properly done) or ignored, where they don’t rise to the level of deletion.

  21. “The chashuve rabbonim and askanim in this delegation did not present themselves as shalichim from all of klal yisroel”

    Yet they chose to share a video of the encounter with all of klal yisroel. Self promotion?

  22. Wow yashar koach moderator for finally starting to stand up for kavod of other Rabbonim. Hopefully we will see more of this in the future

  23. Yair, the question isn’t so much about meeting the Pope per se for a valid purpose. It is about making a simcha out of meeting the Pope, putting on a shtreimal, bringing a photographers to publicize it and a band singing arichos yomim l’kovod the Pope and his Christian mission in the Vatican.

  24. First of all i must say this ywn format is confusing. I miss the old one. Also it took me like 20 minutes to sign in because it just doesn’t work properly.

    I hear many of the points mentioned here however I find it sad that all you comment people while tryinh to stand up for kavod shamaim managed to step on and degrade: eachother, the Lubavitcher rebbe, chabadnicks, Rabbi Hoffman and both Rabbi Glucks. Gosh even the moderator got involved in the “fun”. There’s a way to say your opinion. We’re not all meant to have the same opinion but there’s a way to disagree. This isn’t it.