Updated: Rude, Rudderless Rabbi

Christianity,Etiquette,Israel,Judaism & Jews,Religion

Religious correctness at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, as it is known to Jews, is policed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. The rabbi “is responsible for religious decorum at the site.” More like religious indecorum.

“Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s May visit to Israel, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, has said that it is not proper to come to the site wearing a cross,” reports the Jerusalem Post.

Naturally, “The pope wears a cross in all public appearances.” The Pontiff “is slated to visit the Western Wall on May 12 after a meeting with Muslim religious leaders …”

I wonder if these Muslims will emulate Jewish rudeness and request that the Pontiff remove his cross on entering the Dome of the Rock. This is the Muslim community’s opportunity to put Jews to shame. (I say this as a Jew who does not wish to see Jews qua Jews put to shame.)

“My position,” the boorish rabbi told The Jerusalem Post, “is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross. I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church.”

A boor and a bit of an idiot is Rabbi Rabinovitch, because it is not up to him to feel anything at all about the religious attire in which individuals wrap themselves on entering a church. It’s up to the proprietors of that establishment: Christian worshipers, their ministers, and other religious leaders. I bet they would not think to turn away worshipers or visitors, in tallit or turban, from entering their place of worship.

What a shame Jews must be embarrassed by this chap.

As I said, if Palestinian Muslims have any sense, they will seize on this bit of Jewish misbehavior to show their hospitality to “Benedict the Brave.

Update (March 18): I spoke to my father, Rabbi Ben Isaacson, who resides in South Africa. He agreed with my assessment of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, and went even further. Dad invoked the term Chilul Hashem, a pretty severe tack to take.

The idea is that a Jew’s behavior amounts to desecration of G-d when he brings shame on the community of Jews, and increases the likelihood of retaliation or negative reaction to Jews by his immoral acts. (“King Con” Bernie Madoff is beyond redemption in this sense.)

I Googled the Chilul Hashem concept and found this elegant explanation and argument. My father’s interpretation seems to approximate Rashi’s (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105 C.E.): “Why is it a chilul Hashem if others perceive us as acting immorally? The challenge is not against G-d but against us. Do we profane G-d’s Name because the non-Jew assumes that the Jew is acting pursuant to the Will of Hashem and thus Hashem must support such behaviour?”

Great logic all along. As you can see, one can be a non-believer (me), while being as Jewish as they come in so far as cherishing the wisdom and logic of this tradition.

6 thoughts on “Updated: Rude, Rudderless Rabbi

  1. Robert Glisson

    As a Christian, who studied the roots of Christianity and now appreciates his Tallit, the good rabbi might find it a surprise to learn how many of us Christians (those accepting Abraham as founder rather than Calvin who created another religion that is)that not only have a Tallit at home but also take it to church sometimes. You are very right about many churches accepting articles of worship. Thank you for mentioning it.

  2. Andrew T.

    I don’t find the rabbi’s statement “rude”, exactly. FYI, the ancient Temple did not even allow gentiles to come beyond a certain point on the surrounding land.

    Yes, I’m a Christian.

  3. Grant

    Having just returned from Israel, I can tell you that I observed the hypocrisy firsthand of the so-called religious Jews who think that their displays of piety will earn them something from YHWH. Jesus made it clear that their hypocrisy and displays earn them nothing! Not only that, the rudeness I witnessed by the Hasidic Jews was appalling beyond description. They are the biggest hypocrites of all! I can’t imagine that God is pleased with the Jews. They are in one of the many periods where they have pretty much turned their backs on Him. It’s no wonder that it seems like they and the Western countries are not being blessed.

  4. Andrew T.


    An enormous mistake is to refer to Jews monolothically. This will lead one to be anti-semitic. There are Jews that have never worked on the Sabbath day, Jews that are cross-country bikers, and there are Jews that dress in drag. More Jewish people than not live just about the same lives as any gentile. The best someone can do, I think, is just stick to theology and history.

    The fact that Hasidic Jews are the most conservative of all sects does not mean that they speak for any and all more liberal sects of Judaism. They basically retreat from everything that is associated with the modern world, and their absolutist eschatology deems the State of Israel illegitimate, whereas this ethos is totally absent in Reform, Conservative, or even mainstream Orthodox Judaism. Ironically, the name of the Hasidim is based on the Hebrew word for “hospitality/kindness”, which too many of them have been notoriously unwilling to exhibit towards outsiders and even other Jews (sometimes, even one other, when even the most minor religious disagreement exists). Even here, one has to be prudent not to generalize too much. The difference in outlook toward the modern world, Israel, etc. between a Hassidic Jew of the Chabad sect and one from Satmar is really profound.

  5. Myron Pauli

    There are variations even within Chabad. In Northern Virginia where I live, there may be 20 – 50 truly Orthodox families ( and maybe 200 nearly Orthodox ) so the Chabads are heavy on the welcoming and community outreach and not heavy on the “Rebbe is Messiah” nonsense. They even tolerate an atheist like myself, my Chinese adopted daughter, and various mixed couples and I have seen a few people at functions who had crosses (although it is probably not encouraged). It sounds like Rabbi Rabinovitch considers the Wailing Wall to be his private property – so some of the difficulty may be when Israel designates certain Jews as the “official keeper” of the truth and faith. Mixing state power with religion is a time-honored formula for mischief and tyranny. That, in part, is the wisdom behind America’s First Amendment.

  6. Dantes

    Well put Andrew. Personally, I too find these differences within orthodoxy very inspiring, even beautiful. Shebopnik vs Dati leumi vs Modern Orthodox, lubavitch/chabad vs meshichist chabad (although theyre generally considered heretical), american charedi vs israeli charedi, yekish, mizrachi, sephardi, persian, ethiopian (!), etc. As someone who lived in Israel for a year and having attended the main institution of modern orthodoxy, Yeshiva University, I had the chance to interact with many of these groups; this [genuine] diversity is truly inspiring in that all these groups still feel a great kinship and unity through the traditions of overall Judaism.

    Ilana, concerning your point, I would say that perhaps the Kotel is not a place for having an interfaith PR spectacle (after all, the wall is the remnant of the temple destroyed by the ultimate ancestor of the Vatican, the Romans, which is why this rabbi is adding fire to fuel. You are absolutely right. It is a chilul hashem. However, I recall an incident which ruffled some feathers some time ago. The pope had entered an orthodox synagogue, and upon his entrance, many in the congregation bowed on one knee and kissed the ring on his hand. Many were disturbed by this chutzpah and rightfully so. The pope should not expect non-Christians to prostrate themselves, even if this is the typical greeting he receives. For a Jew to do this, especially in a house of worship, is completely inappropriate.

    [When was bowing and scraping ever in question? A far cry is this from stripping the head of the Catholic Church of his cross; that’s plain disgusting.]

    Its all about principled balance I suppose.

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