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The Pope’s Cross and the Shlomo Carlebach Song

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

It was certainly a bizarre sight to see: Yes, that was the Pope was slightly gyrating to Shlomo Carlebach music at today’s meeting between him and Rabbi Edgar Gluck, his son Rabbi Tzvi Gluck, Rav DovBer Pinson, and a number of other prominent Orthodox individuals and Rabbis. The meeting was proper shtadlanus. However, there are a few other questions that should be addressed.

1] Is the Pope’s shesi v’erev considered to be Avodah Zarah?

2] Was it appropriate to sing the pasuk, “orech yamim asbiyaihu?”

3] Was the singing and dancing appropriate, and what about during Sefirah?


The fact is that the Catholic Church believes in and promulgated the doctrine of the Trinity, which would fit into the technical definition of Avodah Zarah. They teach that G-d is simultaneously three distinct hypostases or persons who are coeternal, coequal, and indivisibly united in One Being.

Professor Harry Austryn Wolfson, the first to head the Department of Judaic Studies at Harvard University, (a former student of the Slabodka Yeshiva) in his classic work, the Philosophy of the Church Fathers, went through every explanation of the Church fathers’ understanding of the Trinity – and each of these explanations, according to this author’s understanding, still would clearly be considered Avodah Zarah. The Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 11:7 and in Peirush HaMishnayos) states that it is considered Avodah Zarah (See Frankel uncensored edition). And while there are those who read a more moderate view in Tosfos Sanhedrin (63b), the majority view of scholars who have studied this Tosfos is not in accordance with this reading.


This does not, however, mean that the particular cross under discussion is Avodah Zarah per se. The matter seems to be a debate. The Ramah in Yoreh De’ah (141:1) cites a ruling of the Trumas HaDeshen (Siman 196) that a cross around the neck is not considered Avodah Zarah to forbid one from benefiting. This is based on a Mordechai in the third chapter of tractate Avodah Zarah citing the Raavyah.


Nonetheless, the Shach (141:6) writes that the Ramah’s view is only when one is absolutely sure that the cross was not actually worshipped. The Shach concludes with a most stringent view.
Yet, the Chochmas Adam 85:1 also states that a cross that is hung across the neck is not considered Avodah Zarah and is only a zikaron – a commemoration. He extends it to others that are not necessarily hung on the neck. It is not just the Chochmas Adam’s view. The Kinyan Torah (Vol. I 54:5) rules the same way.

The Klausenberger Rebbe (Divrei Yatziv YD #45) at first questions the Shach but at the end forbids matters in accordance with the Shach’s view.


The pasuk and song under discussion implemented in this context and with the comments of the Rishonim – indicate a veritable approbation extended here – beyond mere bracha. There is no question that the current Pope is certainly one of the friendliest popes to the Jewish people and community that we can recall, but the issue of theologically negating the absolute achdus of Hashem is not one that one can give an approbation toward. Indeed, the conclusion that one would derive from the responsum of Har Tzvi (OC 85) and the Chelkas Yaakov (YD 54) in regard to theological hesitations involving Avodah Zarah would seem that one should not go to such distances.


Aside from the issues mentioned above, there is another issue of it being Sefirah – a time of mourning. True, we do permit haircuts when visiting dignitaries, but playing live music and dancing is not something that is generally done in papal audiences. The language of the Mogain Avrohom 493:1 indicates that it is a Minhag to refrain from doing so, unless it is a Seudas Mitzvah. Had it been a meeting with President Trump, one could conceivably find grounds to go against the Minhag cited in the Mogain Avrohom – particularly, since Sefardic Poskim do not have this minhag.


As mentioned in a previous article, actually meeting with the pope and developing good will with the pontiff is certainly worthwhile to pursue. The song and dance was, in this author’s opinion, not something that should have been tacked on. Of course, it is likely that the askanim posed the questions to their Rabbinic authorities and Poskim, who may have felt that uder the circumstances of the issues being discussed with the pope – it was warranted. The fact is that Reb Tzvi Gluck’s work is so important and is a matter of Pikuach Nefesh that it may indeed, trump many of these other issues – in order to get the message out. On the other hand, it could be that the message could have been made without the singing and dancing.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

13 Responses

  1. I’m wondering why those particular words were sung and why they arent any different than shouting “long live the pope”.

  2. Interesting. And how does this differ from the video you love showing of Rabbi Riskin with his liking/comparisons of certain parts of Christianity? You can’t have it both ways.
    Apparently, Louie Scheiner (yes, you see him in this video as well) is a big Carlbach fan and Orech Yomim is his favorite song. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. You have shown on YWN his countless videos of his group singing that song in Morroco, Poland, Bahrain (or some other Arab nation) dancing with the Arabs, with his own Minyan in Uman, etc… So this was just one more feather in his cap as to where/location he got to sing this song. Nu nu.
    The Carlbach movement/cult has taken a life of its own with “Carlbach Shabbos”, “Slechos”, etc… I hate to break it to the chevra, but unlike Elvis, Reb Shlomo is no longer amongst the living. It’s really time to move on.

  3. What does Zvi Gluck’s work have to do with this meeting? And, how in the world can the pope help his work by saying ‘zero tolerance’?

  4. In my humble opinion the Pope is merely a figurehead and has no power to burn Jews at the stake. Back in the day people would risk certain elements of Halacha for the sake of Pikuach Nefesh. I beg to know what pikuach nefesh took place to meet the avi avois hatumah?

  5. How do you know orech yomim was sung to refer to the Pope, rather than the Rabbi?

    We know they don’t worship the cross, so it’s no avoda zara even als the shach. And even if it is avodah zarah, what does that have to do with us? Is it ossur to be in the same room or sing songs in front of someone wearing avodah zarah?

    I agree with the singing during sefira, what was the point of doing that? Seems unnecessary, not a normal part of chanifah.

  6. It’s more than just a cross. There’s a crucifix- a reproduction of their avoda Zara hanging of it. Hard to see it as merely a “zikaron” especially when their minhag is to bow to it!

    I also believe that the modern pope is more worried about Jewish people than Jewish people of him. Unless rabbi gluck can prove that the popes “blessing” in any given matter will tangeably help his case this whole meeting can have taken place in a more respectable manner.

  7. The sheileh of music in Sefirah here is like that sheilech of the woman who asked the Rov if the lungs of the slaughtered pig is kosher. The problem is not the music in Sefirah, the problem is Jews honoring the pope. It’s a huge chillul Hashem to dance with him.

    And for YWN to post a picture with the tzeilem is 100% wrong, as not only are the shesi v’erev and tifleh known by klal yisroel as chazer treif, whether the pope is an ohev yisroel or not and we always kept distance from these 2, there’s a tremendous klipah on the tzeilem, on the galochim and al achas kamo vekamo the avi avos hatumeh, the pope in his tomei dwelling the vatican.

  8. why was this video disseminated at all? if the group felt it was important for people to know of their work, and even their meeting with the pope to further that work, a press release would have sufficed. the release of the videos seem to be nothing more than self promotion by someone in that group.

  9. “The meeting was proper shtadlanus.”

    Carried out by proper shtadlanim? Does a proper shtadlan self promote on the internet?

  10. there are too many ” poskim” commenting on this article….can I ask that all of you please post your credentials so that we can at least see that your qualified to speak on such a matter and not just speaking out of your tuchus.

  11. Too many armchair gadolim and poskim (and I should know) are over-analyzing this event which clearly may have furthered some positive work being coordinated by the Glucks and other attendees but clearly their is no real downside. Rav Hoffman’s bottom line that the meeting without the song and dance routine at the end would probably have resulted in better optics in the frum tzibur but otherwise, just let it go.

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