A week before Rosh Hashanah, Pope Francis made headlines that most leading newspapers were either unaware of, or simply chose to ignore. Pope Francis made headlines that had nothing to do with his upcoming trip to the United States. Pope Francis made Jewish headlines.
Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin, President of Israel, was in Rome on official business. He was paying a visit to the Pope. Rubi (meaning no disrespect, the Prime Minister of Israel is referred to as Bibi) was accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Rivkah Ravitz. Dr. Ravitz is a 39 year old mother of 10, who would blend in perfectly in any Orthodox neighborhood around the world. She dresses modestly, wears a sheitel (a wig designed to cover her own hair) and avoids physical contact with men.
Protocol dictates that upon meeting the Pope, one genuflect (bends at the knees). The Pope will then extend his hand. If the individual is a Catholic, he will then kiss the Pope’s ring. A non-Catholic can opt to shake the Pope’s hand. One is to address the Pope as Holy Father or Your Holiness.
Halacha or Jewish law dictates otherwise. In the eyes of an observant Jew, halacha trumps protocol. Always! When it was Rivkah’s turn to meet the Pope, she explained that she could not offer her hand. Rivkah also explained that because of the Cross, she could not bow down either.
Had this been a different time as well as a different Pope, there would have been a moment of awkward silence. Under the best of circumstances! But this was in the here and now. This was not a different Pope. This was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whose middle name is humility. This was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who is neither threatened nor offended by those of a different faith. This is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who embodies the epitome of respect for all people from all different religious backgrounds. And because of this, the Holy See did not miss a beat. Quite casually, the Pope covered the Cross with his hand, so that it would not offend a halachically observant Jewish woman. And then, the Pope proceeded to bow to Rivkah!
Please understand. From a social, political and even theological standpoint, the Pope and I share little, if anything in common. One would have good reason to maintain that the Pope and I are from different planets, when it comes to the way we view this world. Quite frankly, I find many of his views to be out of bounds for a religious leader and downright dangerous for this country and maybe even the world. And even as a Jew, I find it difficult to believe that the Pope is a constant source of naches to the Catholic Church when he says or does things that past nisht or don’t square with tradition. One thing I will say however. Based on what took place on September 7th however, Pope Francis is a real mentsch!