Leading U.S. Rabbi Defends Benedict's Yad Vashem Speech

N.Y. Rabbi Arthur Schneier: Pope's support for Israel overweighs flaws of so-called lukewarm remarks.

A leading American rabbi and confidante of Pope Benedict XVI defended the pontiff for his speech Monday at Yad Vashem, saying that expectations were too high.

The pope's support and respect for the State of Israel overweighs any perceived flaws in his remarks, said Rabbi Arthur Schneier on Tuesday.

Schneier, of New York, is founder and president of the interfaith Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

Many Jewish officials in Israel and abroad had criticized Benedict's speech as "lukewarm" and "half-hearted."

"It would be a tragic mistake to get stuck on one speech," said Schneier. "We need allies, and time and time again - in his speech to the chief rabbis, in his remarks to the president of Israel - the pope keeps emphasizing the closeness [between Jews and Christians]. We need to focus on that, and on building on that visit. Would I have given a better speech? Yes, I would have. But that's not the end-all."

Schneier, who last year became the first American rabbi to host a pope at his synagogue, told Haaretz he can understand the disappointment.

"But my philosophy is not be paralyzed by setbacks," he said in Jerusalem a few hours after accompanying the pontiff to the Western Wall. "I look at the overall visit and not just at one stop. As important a stop [Yad Vashem] is - particularly for me as a Holocaust survivor - when you look at the whole visit you can conclude that some of the major missteps that have been anticipated so far have not occurred."

The pontiff had been criticized for failing to refer to his own past in Nazi Germany and to apologize for the Holocaust. Schneier, 79, however, pointed out that Benedict started his pilgrimage to the Holy Land by referring to the "inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people" during a speech at Mount Nebo.