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?
IS IT AVODAH ZARAH?
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.
THE RAMAH IS LENIENT
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.
THE SHACH IS STRINGENT
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.
SINGING ORECH YAMIM ASBIYAIHU
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.
MUSIC AND DANCING
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]