2016-07-27
JERUSALEM, Feb. 28 (RNS)--Israel's chief rabbis complained Monday that the schedule for Pope John Paul II's Holy Land visit in late March will force Jews to desecrate the Sabbath in order to control crowds and protect his entourage.

But the rabbis also denounced anti-papal posters and graffiti that have appeared recently in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. The messages call on Jewish religious leaders to boycott a planned meeting with the Roman Catholic leader.

Slogans like "No to blasphemy, No to meeting the pope" and "Don't meet the pope" appeared Sunday on the walls of the buildings that house Israel's chief rabbinate.

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

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

Lau, however, has also complained to Israel's Public Security Minister 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, which will require police and other public security personnel to work through the Jewish Sabbath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Lau, who is the Ashkenazi chief rabbi representing European Orthodox Jews, and Bakshi-Doron, who represents Sephardi, or Middle Eastern Orthodox Jews, are due to meet with the pope during his visit here March 21-26.


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