A gathering of prominent rabbis in Poland this month determined that Christians, even those visibly wearing a cross, should be permitted to enter and pray in a synagogue.
This is a stark shift in attitudes from years past, when flaunting Christian symbols was likely to result in one being asked to leave a Jewish house of prayer.
But more recently the Jewish communities in Europe (the phenomenon is older in America) have found themselves in the odd position of trying to relate to non-Jews eager to participate in Jewish customs, traditions and worship.
Rabbis from the Ohr Torah Stone educational network sought to address the issue at an event in Warsaw marking International Holocaust Day.
When asked if it was permissible for non-Jews to pray in a synagogue, the rabbis replied: “A Gentile who enters a synagogue with proper respect for the place and the Jewish religious can pray there.”
Participants further wondered what should be done if that non-Jew were visibly wearing a cross, typically seen in Judaism as a symbol of idolatry. The rabbis responded that if the Gentile in question is not a Christian cleric, then there is no problem.
Likewise, the rabbis said that Jews should not refrain from praying in the presence of a Christian cross.
Additional rulings determined that Gentiles can carry a Torah scroll, if they do so respectfully, and that Jews can and should pray for Gentile friends.
“Given the long history of antisemitism in Germany and Poland, it is an interesting challenge that our emissaries are today being approached by non-Jews who wish to participate in synagogue services and prayers and be exposed to Jewish tradition and culture,” said Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, Director of Ohr Torah Stone.
This new reality, continued the rabbi, “presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The religious differences cannot be ignored, but we must find a way to respect one another.”