Rabbi seen in video with pope apologizes after Orthodox critics raise objections


(JTA) — A feel-good video of the pope dancing with a group of rabbis at the Vatican didn’t feel so good to some haredi Orthodox Jews, whose criticisms drew an apology from one of the rabbis who took part.

Rabbi Dovber Pinson, a Chabad rabbi and the dean of the Iyyun Yeshiva in Brooklyn, N.Y., wrote a letter of apology to students and friends saying the the viral video is “unfortunately clouding the important mission I was there to accomplish.”

Following the wide dissemination of the video from Monday’s meeting, contributors to the haredi Orthodox Yeshiva World News website debated whether the group of rabbis should have met with Pope Francis at all. One concern was the large cross worn by the pope during the audience, which suggested the rabbis were in the presence of “idol worship.”

Critics also questioned whether rabbis should have engaged in music and singing during the days of semi-mourning leading up to Lag b’Omer, a minor festival to be marked on Sunday. Pinson wrote that the singing and dancing began “spontaneously without my foreknowledge or consent,” and that he did not want to embarrass the singers or the pope by cutting it off too quickly. The pope was seen in the video swaying to the music.

Pinson stressed that the meeting was held in the pope’s private office and dealt in part with ideas of “pure monotheism, hoping to increase the awareness of Oneness of G-d among all humankind as a true and only Source of all life.” He called the meeting a “kiddush Hashem,” or a sanctification of God’s name.

“It is my deep regret that this video was released at all, (which was accidental) and that the visit was portrayed in such a way,” he wrote.

Other critics at Yeshiva World News questioned the appropriateness of the psalm that was sung. Psalm 91, whose verse “With long life I will satisfy him and I will show him my salvation” is directed at God, could be interpreted as extolling the virtues of the pope, a critic wrote.

The pontiff held a 45-minute audience with the group, which was led by Rabbi Edgar Gluck, 80, who divides his time between Brooklyn and Poland, where he holds the title of chief rabbi of Galicia.

Yeshiva World News quoted Gluck’s son Zvi, who was part of the delegation, as saying the pontiff pledged to work toward enacting “stronger rules against destroying Jewish cemeteries to build roads or homes.” The group also discussed with the pope the problem of child abuse.

Last year, Gluck and the pope discussed the plight of Jewish cemeteries when Francis visited Krakow for Catholic World Youth Day and, according to Yeshiva World News, the pope invited Gluck to continue the discussion at the Vatican.