[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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org