Rav Lau, Rivlin Unhappy With Pope Speech at Yad Vashem


rivlinKnesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin added his own voice today to the criticism of German-born Pope Benedict XVI for his speech at Israel’s Holocaust museum yesterday – the first day of what seems to be turning into a contentious visit to Israel. Citing Benedict’s teenage membership in the Hitler Youth and German military service, Rivlin berated the pope over his address on Monday at Yad Vashem.”With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the burden he bears, as a young German who joined the Hitler Youth and as a person who joined Hitler’s army, which was an instrument in the extermination,” Rivlin told Israel Radio.

“He came and told us as if he were a historian, someone looking in from the sidelines, about things that should not have happened. And what can you do? He was a part of them,” Rivlin said.

Shortly after his visit to the memorial, the pope walked out of an interfaith meeting in Yerushalayim after a Palestinian Muslim cleric accused Israel of “slaughter.”

At the Yad Vashem ceremony, the pope spoke of the “horrific tragedy of the Shoah,” but disappointed some who said he should have apologized as a German and a Christian for the genocide.

The speech drew criticism from staff members of the Holocaust memorial, who described it as disappointing and lukewarm. The chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, Avner Shalev, said he expected the pope, “who is a human being, too,” to draw on his personal experience to issue a stronger condemnation of Nazis and Germans, who were not directly mentioned in the speech.

The pope grew up in Nazi Germany and served in both Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht, before deserting from the army in 1944. Shalev, however, said the speech was “important,” especially in its criticism of denial of the Holocaust.

In his speech yesterday, the pope spoke at length about the importance of remembering the victims of the Holocaust.

“One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being,” he said.

“May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!” he said.

In what appeared to be an attempt to rally to the pope’s defense, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said he was certain the pontiff subscribed to the prayer his predecessor John Paul II placed in the Kosel nine years ago, in which he asked for God’s forgiveness for suffering caused to Jews over the centuries.

In the prayer he placed into the Kosel, Pope Benedict mentioned in general terms “the suffering and the pain of all your people throughout the world” and called for peace in the Middle East.

The chairman of Yad Vashem, Former Chief Rabbi Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, himself a Holocaust survivor, complained of the pope’s usage of the word “millions” instead of the more specific “six million” when speaking of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims, as well as over his use of the word “killed” rather than “murdered.”

“There’s a dramatic difference between killed and murdered, especially when a speech has gone through so many hands,” Rav Lau said.

Rav Lau also said that the speech “didn’t have a single word of condolence, compassion or sharing the pain of the Jewish people as such. There was a lot about the pain of humanity, cosmopolitan words,” Lau said.

However, Rav Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, also described the speech as “beautiful and well scripted and very Biblical.”

{Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel/News Agencies}