Pope Benedict 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
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.
The pope wears a cross in all public appearances and is slated to visit the Western Wall on May 12 after a meeting with Muslim religious leaders at the Dome of the Rock.
After the visit, which will include a meeting with Rabinovitch, the pope is slated to meet with Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.
"My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross," said Rabinovitch in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church."
Rabinovitch is responsible for religious decorum at the site.
"In coming days I intend to discuss the issue with the pope's people," Wadie Abunassar, media coordinator for the pope's visit to the Holy Land, said in response to reports that the pontiff would not remove his cross. "I cannot imagine the Holy Father removing his cross."
On a historic visit to the Holy Land in 2000, Pope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall, stuffing a written prayer between the cracks. Pictures from the visit clearly show him wearing a golden cross while praying.
Despite this precedent, Rabinovitch maintains his position against the display of religious symbols. In recent years there have been at least two incidents in which Rabinovitch has barred access to the Western Wall by Christian clergy wearing crosses.
In November 2007, he refused to allow a group of Austrian bishops led by the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, access to the site after the clergymen refused to remove or hide their crosses.
At the time Rabinovitch told the Post that "crosses are a symbol that hurt Jewish feelings."
In May 2008, a group of Irish prelates from both Catholic and Protestant churches were prevented from visiting the Western Wall for the same reason.
Rabinovitch also opposes security arrangements that would prevent worshipers from reaching the Kotel for several hours before and during the pope's visit.
"Police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) authorities met with me and presented certain demands for security during the visit that include closing the Western Wall to people who want to pray," said Rabinovitch.
"For the past 42 years, no one has ever been prevented from praying at the Western Wall and, God willing, no one ever will. A solution needs to be reached that provides adequate security for the pope without infringing on the right of everyone to pray. The Western Wall belongs to everyone."
A senior Catholic church official said in response that the security arrangements for the pope were an internal Israeli affair that had nothing to do with the Church.
Before 1967, when the Western Wall was under Jordanian rule, Jews were forbidden to pray there. In the Six Day War, Israel conquered east Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, from Jordan and prayer was opened to all religions.