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September 7, 2015 2:20 pm

Pope Bows to Pay Respect to Israeli President’s Ultra-Orthodox Bureau Chief

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

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Popr Francis bows to longtime ultra-Orthodox assistant to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Rivkah Ravitz.

Popr Francis bows to longtime ultra-Orthodox assistant to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Rivkah Ravitz. Photo: 

Pope Francis has become something of a media darling since entering the Vatican in 2013, and now the pontiff has drawn the attention of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, after bowing to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s bureau chief.

Various Orthodox blogs released an image of the papal bow on Sunday, from Rivlin’s trip to Rome last week. According to the reports, when it came time for Rivlin’s trusted assistant, Rivkah Ravitz, to meet the Pope, she declined the traditional handshake, explaining that for religious reasons (adhering to strict codes according to which men and women who are not married to each other may not touch), she would not be able to reciprocate.

Nor, she said, could she bow to the pontiff, because he was adorned with a cross.

Pope Francis immediately recognized the situation and, diffusing all awkwardness with deft extemporization, covered his cross and bowed to Ravitz instead.

Ravitz is Rivlin’s longtime assistant, having served as his executive assistant while he was a Knesset lawmaker, and then as his bureau chief when he was Knesset speaker. She became the first ultra-Orthodox bureau chief at the President’s Residence, when Rivlin assumed the office last year.

While in Rome, Rivlin also met with  Italian President Sergio Mattarella and other Italian officials.

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  • Charles Martel

    I like this Pope. Also she was right,only bow to the G`D of Israel.

  • Thomas Martin

    Hiding the cross for this little nothing.Total absolute apostasy. For I cherish the old rugged cross.

  • Idiot Again

    From here you learn that permission was given to mention the Explicit Name only in the place to which the Shechinah comes, and that is in the Temple in Jerusalem. There permission was given to the priests to mention the Explicit Name when they raise their hands to bless the people.
    Ex. III, 15. The actual reading is: this is my name for ever. (leolam, לעולם); but it is written, to be hidden (lealeim, לעלם) – without the vav – ו. Thus this indicates that God’s name must be kept secret; whereas ‘this is my memorial’ etc. implies that He is to be known by this name. Another version, accepting the reading Leolam (for ever) explains the difficulty thus: since G-d states this is my name, it is obvious that He is to be known by it: why then add, ‘and this is my memorial’ etc.?

  • Nili

    I have carefully researched this matter.

    1. As an Israeli Orthodox Jew I know that, an orthodox Jew may stand in the presence of the Pope because he is a head of state. The correct protocol, 100% within Orthodox Judaism is: to clearly and respectfully pronounce the blessing for a head of state. One is allowed to bow or not to bow…but that is a matter of personal choice.

    2. I have looked high and low, and reviewed all of the statements made and/or released by President Mr. Rivlin’s spokesperson and by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is no separate statement regarding Ms. Ravitz. Further President Mr. Rivlin’s visit to the Vatican was an official visit made by one head of state to another head of state. There was a separate meeting and an exchange of gifts occurred.
    My research allows me to unequivocally state that Ms. Alyssa Kaplan is sharing information that is not accurate.

    3. A final point for all of our considerations. When Pope Francis visited Israel he was not met by any representatives from the offices of either the Chief Rabbi (Ashkenazi) or the Rishon L’Tzion (Sefardi). Quite the opposite…both offices issued statements refusing to meet with the Pope. I do believe that in greeting Ms. Ravitz as he did the Pope was sending a message to those rabbis.

    4. This Pope is a friend of Israel. As Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires and as Cardinal of Buenos Aires he took a special interest in encouraging and working on a strong ecumenical relationship with the Jewish Community of Buenos Aires and Argentina. During his tenure as Cardinal a Holocaust Memorial was added to the Chapel of Saint Teresa (Spanish: Capilla de Santa Teresa) in The Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral (Spanish: La Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires). After the terrorist attacks against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the AMIA (Mutual Association of Israelites in Argentina, Spanish: Associacion Mutual Israelita Argentina) two additional memorials were added to this chapel one remembering the fallen of the embassy and one remembering the fallen of AMIA. The three memorials include the Hebrew prayer Kaddish in both Hebrew and Spanish, as well as books and other items related to the three different tragedies. Additionally, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (that is the Pope’s birth name) was the first non-Jewish signatory on a petition presented to the Government of the Republic of Argentina calling for a full and objective investigation into the AMIA terrorist attack.

    In other words, I am comfortable saying that Pope Francis is not a hypocrite and he’s not an opportunist, his feelings of friendship towards Jews in general and to Israel in particular are very genuine.

  • Willia Oiubeccia

    Oy; she could have run a comb through her hair.

  • rich

    What else is new….this isnt the first time he concealed the crucifix to placate a jew. He’s much more Jew than Catholic anyway so his behavior shouldnt surprise those who actually know what that ingrate is all about.

  • OK !!! What’s the Real Story Here ???

  • S. Marcus

    Alyssa kaplan’s damage control explanation doesn’t help either. Typical. I still can’t believe there are people posting supportive comments to this shameful act using Yiddish and Hebrew one liners.

    • Eli

      Ok. I read all the comments below. There are some very nice positive comments and there are some very ugly negative comments. The negative comments are all written with “authority” that she definitely did the wrong thing! I’m an orthodox, yarmulka wearing in the workplace Jew for 30+ years. I worked alongside non-Jews and unorthodox Jews. I don’t speak authoritatively, but from my experiences which I have compared with my co-religionists. My experience has been that as long as I’ve acted in a nice and respectful way to my co-workers and answered their questions about my Jewish observance – AND remained consistent, then they have fully respected me. One of the goyim that worked with me complained to a non-orthodox co-worker for not wearing tzitzis and convinced him to wear them! My opinion is that our recent history has shown that relaxing our standards has not brought us more respect but the opposite. I applaud Rivka Ravitz for calling ahead to explain her observance to the Pope. She was respectful to him and he respected her. Same as my 30 years of experience.

      • Mary

        Dear Eli
        I like your post, and we agree about respect. I am Catholic, and I try to understand Rivka point of view and the way she expressed it. Now, what should the Pope do? Just say, Hi, and avoid touching her and bowing? I think people don´t critizy her more than they are upset with the Pope´s attitude…. what do you think?

  • This is called a kiddush HaShem. She risked a LOT!! She could have been fired or even worse. And she could have used logic and said it’s better to concede a little etc.
    But not only did none of that happen …. but the world bowed down to her. And I take my hat off (not my yarmuka though)to her. This is real Jewish pride, identity and power. If the Israeli govt would act this way with the Arabs etc. They too would succeed. Maybe it will rub off on Rivlin and cronies.

    • Bernard Baum

      You had me until your last sentence

    • Amy R

      I applaud Jewish identity…”pride….and power”, meh, not so much. Pope Francis is exemplifying the Christian ideal of humility: the exact opposite of pride and power. Pope Francis came out of this situation for the better, not Ravitz.

  • I have previously commented on this article. However, I believe I must reiterate my thoughts about her behavior. We, as Jews, believe that people of other faiths should show respect of our faith and feelings. However, in this case, our representative did not have a modicum of tolerance or respect for another faith. She should not have been our representative to the Holy See. She needn’t bow before the Pontiff, but, her behavior was undiplomatic and offensive. The Pope, on the other, showed an incredible amount of tolerance to a visitor who was totally disrespectful and intolerant. Why in the world did she agree to visit the Pope? And where is the intelligence and sensitivity of our Government officials. How would we feel a Christian visitor to our Chief Rabbis or other government dignitaries behaved in such disrespectful behavior. And all those positive comments about her outrageous behavior, indicates that my fellow Jews are ignorant of proper behavior. Oh yes, the Catholic Church has a dreadful history vis a vis our people, however, let us be aware that during WW2, Catholic priests and even Bishops endangered their lives to save Jews. And my husband and his immediate family were hidden and saved by Fr.Antonio Borosotto, and I am grateful to Yad Vahsem for honoring his bravery as one who is among THE RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS.

    • S. Marcus

      I fully agree with S. Eisenberg and Steven, L’s comments. Such spoiled arrogance! This type of behavior is the core of our problem. It really doesn’t help us! She should have been fired on the spot be Rivlin, period!

  • Her behavior was insulting. It has long been accepted in halachik communities that when a male extends a hand in business relationships it is permitted for a women to accept the handshake. Only religious crazies think otherwise. In fact her behavior created a chilul hashem. If she accepted the handshake there would not be any need to bow or explain why. No wonder i no longer have much respect for the orthodox community i grew up and was educated in.
    Simcha yc/yu 71 Bar Ilan 81.

  • Joseph Feld

    This article has made my day! It brought back memories of PM Mrs Thatcher’s visit to Pardes House Boys School in her Finchley constituency. She was careful not to extend her hand to any male teachers or governors, knowing that many would be placed in a quandary. Just to note, although H M The Queen shakes hands with men, the Queen usually wears gloves.

  • Peter

    What a gentleman. That’s why he is the Pope

  • S. Eisenberg

    I can’t believe the Pope would cover his cross, and bow to an ultra orthodox “hot head Jew” (for lack of another word). She knew the protocol, and didn’t have to embarrass the Pope. She has managed to piss-off about a billion and a half Catolics against Jews! And you wonder why everybody hate us, while smiling at us politely? That was an insult to a very friendly pope toward Jews, and that’s what he gets from an Spoiled Presidential Mistress. Again I’m being kind to her.
    Jewish arrogance at work again.

    • Amy R

      The Pope is not embarrassed. If anything, he is probably grateful she provided him an opportunity to act with humility, in accordance with Christian morality. Covering his cross/crucifix is not denying Christ, because he is in his very Office as Successor to St. Peter an affirmation of belief in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately I’d agree that the Pope did anger *some* Catholics, but that would only be the fringe ‘Traditionalists’ (the Catholic counterpart to Ravitz and ultra-orthodox Judaism) – those who put their outward actions of identity above their inner love of Christ.

    • Mary

      I can´t believe it neither :'(
      I am Catholic and we are taught to love Jews. In fact Jesus was born in a loving jewish family..

    • Idiot Again

      Idiot!עם הארץ. אתה יותר נמוח מכל שרץ.

    • mookie

      Yeah – that’s why they hate us! Because she wouldn’t shake his hand. Now it all makes sense. Now, finally, I understand the Holocaust!

      I once heard a story about the Bostoner Rav. He was approached by a self hating Jew – probably much like Mr. Eisenberg – who berated him in Yiddish him for making Jews look foolish in the eyes of the non-Jews with his ridiculous garb and primeval customs. The Bostoner Rebbe said to him in his perfect English. “Excuse me, I cannot understand you, what language are you speaking?” The self hating Jew says “Jewish” and the Bostoner Rebbi says “Oh, I don’t speak Jewish – I’m Amish”. The self hating Jew then apologizes and goes on about how much he respects the Amish and their adherence to their beliefs and customs. Then when the bus arrived at the Rebbi’s stop the Rebbi got up and turn around and said to the self hating Jew (in Yiddish) “There is no anti-semite like a Jewish Anti-Semite.” You may doubt the authenticity of the story (I trust it because I know the source). However, I think the lesson is clear. It is okay for us to observe our observances.

  • steven L

    How does this help Israel!!!

  • HaDaR

    Not only she doesn’t go against Halakhà, but BY DOING SO, se gets bowed to!

  • Ephraim


  • alyssa t KAPLAN

    According President Rivlin’s spokesperson, here’s what happened: He and Rivka Ravits did indeed meet the Pope this past Thursday. They were part of a larger group of people who were all in the Pope’s office at the same time. As per Rivlin’s protocol, they called ahead to the Pope’s people to let them know that Ravits does not shake hands with men, due to her religious beliefs about it. So, when she kept her hands behind her back, the Pope was not surprised. He’d been told about it in advance.
    The Pope customarily bows to ALL his guests. He bowed to Ravits EXACTLY the same way that he did for everyone else in the room.
    Ravits did NOT have a conversation with the Pope. She did not explain on the spot why she won’t shake his hand. He did not say anything to her. She was never expected to bow to HIM. He simply acknowledged her as he does for everyone, and moved down the line to the next person.
    Please share this with anyone who posts the made-up story as if it were true. It’s only partly true, and therefore not really quite as interesting. But it IS interesting the President Rivlin met with the Pope, eh? Even without this weird bowing rumor?”

    • Sue Deutsch

      Thank you for explaining what actually happened. I do think it is a bit funny that she kept her hands behind her back. Since it was explained previously that she could not shake hands, did she think the Pope was going to grab one of her hands if they weren’t behind her back? However, this story does really explain, to a large degree, what actually happened. I am glad that a rude and foolish insult was not really offered to the Pope, who also sounds like a good human being.

  • Miriam Pomeranz

    Talk about history being made.

  • Miriam Pomeranz

    what a kiddush hashem!!

  • Miriam Pomeranz

    What a Kiddush Hashem