Beliefnet
JERUSALEM, Feb. 28 (RNS)--Israel's chief rabbis complained Monday thatthe schedule for Pope John Paul II's Holy Land visit in late March willforce Jews to desecrate the Sabbath in order to control crowds andprotect his entourage.

But the rabbis also denounced anti-papal posters and graffiti thathave appeared recently in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Themessages call on Jewish religious leaders to boycott a planned meetingwith the Roman Catholic leader.

Slogans like "No to blasphemy, No to meeting the pope" and "Don'tmeet the pope" appeared Sunday on the walls of the buildings that houseIsrael's chief rabbinate.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews have said they fear John Paul's visit mightspur efforts to covert Jews to Christianity.

"It's true that we (Jews) have a lot of negative memories in ourrelationship to the church. But Judaism has taught us to turn enemiesinto friends, and the present-day pope is a friend of Israel's. We mustreceive him honorably," Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau's office told RNS.

Lau, however, has also complained to Israel's Public SecurityMinister Shlomo Ben Ami, and to Haim Ramon, the minister in charge of papal visit preparation, about the pope's busy Saturday schedule on March 25, whichwill require police and other public security personnel to work throughthe Jewish Sabbath.

"The current schedule is full of potential land mines that couldcause a desecration of the Sabbath. We ask that changes in the plans bemade for the sake of the police and the Sabbath," said the letter fromLau and his counterpart Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron.

Jewish religious law prohibits work on the Sabbath unless it is necessary as alife-saving function.

The pope intends to celebrate a large outdoor mass in the IsraeliArab city of Nazareth on March 25, which is also the CatholicFeast of the Annunciation, celebrating the day on which tradition holdsthat Mary, while drawing water from a well in Nazareth, learned from theangel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus.

On that afternoon, the pope also is scheduled to return from Nazareth toJerusalem and meet the Greek Orthodox patriarch and visit the Garden ofGethsemane, where Jesus was arrested prior to his crucifixion.

All of the events will require a massive Israeli police and securitypresence due to the crowds expected to be following John Paul.

A government spokesman, responding to the chief rabbis' appeal, saidasking the pope to restrict his schedule on Saturday was unreasonablesince he was celebrating a Christian holiday which happens to fall onthe same day.

"The pope is coming to Israel because of the Sabbath, which happensto be the Festival of the Annunciation for Christians," said one source,who asked not to be named. "You can't expect Christians to move theirholidays to another day and the fact is that he will be celebrating mostof the day in a city (Nazareth) that is not Jewish."

Both Lau, who is the Ashkenazi chief rabbi representing EuropeanOrthodox Jews, and Bakshi-Doron, who represents Sephardi, or MiddleEastern Orthodox Jews, are due to meet with the pope during his visithere March 21-26.

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