In the midst of his historic visit to Israel – just prior to making his approach to the Kotel HaMaaravi – Pope Francis was treated to a strongly-worded Jewish history lesson from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Kotel and the Holy Sites.
As he prepared to pray at the Wailing Wall, the pontiff was first given a brief historical overview of the Har HaBayis (Temple Mount) by a tour guide who employed a three-dimensional map to describe key aspects of the two Temples, their eventual destruction, and the Temple Mount’s architecture. Rabbi Rabinowitz then addressed the pope with a passionate description of Jewish history, including the Jewish people’s exile and redemption.
“The Jerusalem you have arrived at, honored Pope, is not only the physical Jerusalem,” the Kotel rabbi declared. “It is also the Jerusalem of dreams; the dream of millions of Jews throughout two thousand long years of exile. Jerusalem is a dream that has been realized; we are still walking in it as dreamers, expecting the full realization of the dream.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz then spoke about the destruction of the Second Temple, making special reference to Titus’s Arch in Rome, which portrays the exile of the Jewish people from Israel.
“It is true, Titus succeeded in taking the Menorah and the tools of the Temple; but the light of faith, and the hope to return to the land of our fathers, he was not successful in extinguishing,” the rabbi stated. “We have traveled a long road on the way home; we have journeyed from the four corners of the land.”
In what some saw as an allusion to historical Christian persecution of the Jews, Rabbi Rabinowitz continued, “For two thousand years we have had our fill of scorn and sadness, but every day we prayed and believed ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ We merited a great miracle to return here after a long exile and a horrifying Holocaust. Thank G-d, the People of Israel live on, in the Land of Israel.”
Rabbi Rabinowitz further informed Pope Francis that throughout the long exile, Jews held on to their self-image as G-d’s chosen nation, based purely on a commitment to the nation’s mission to serve Him. The rabbi then read aloud from the Book of Isaiah : “And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Ending his comments with a special request that touched on worldwide anti-Jewish sentiment, Rabbi Rabinowitz said, “I would like to address – together with you – the believers of all religions, asking them to fight hatred and anti-Semitism which has increased more and more. Only two days ago we have felt it again, and the voices that are heard all the time do not bring good tidings. We will raise to them from Jerusalem a blessing of peace.”
In his subsequent time standing and praying at the Kotel, the Pope placed a note in its crevices, after which he signed a visitor’s book with a classical quotation from the prophet Isaiah: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Rabbi Rabinowitz then gave a book about the Temple and its heritage to the leader of the world’s Catholics.
In conjunction with the Pope’s visit, The Temple Institute in Jerusalem, which educates the public about the Temple and engages in activities meant to prepare for the building of the Third Temple, released a statement calling on the Pope return the sacred vessels of the Temple, which are allegedly in the Vatican’s possession. The statement read: “Today the Pope is in Jerusalem, and we demand: Return at once the Holy Temple vessels stolen by Titus in 70 CE and later hidden away in the Vatican where they have remained for over 1000 years. In your own words, Pope Francis, the situation is ‘increasingly unacceptable.’ Return the stolen vessels at once!”
During his visit to the Holy Land, Pope Francis created controversy by describing the Palestinian Authority as “the state of Palestine.” He later made a pointed stop at the security barrier between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, built to prevent terrorist attacks, to pray at a section that had the words “free Palestine” spray-painted on it.