patriarch - Meir Margalit - November 23 2011
Greek Patriarch Theophilos III meeting with the delegation. Photo by Meir Margalit
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Last Friday, a group of Jewish public figures and intellectuals paid a visit to the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem with one simple goal in mind, asking for forgiveness. The group took the step following a report in Haaretz about two weeks ago describing the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish young people of spitting when passing church clergy on the street.

One member of the delegation, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who is general secretary of Rabbis for Human Rights, noted that on Yom Kippur, Jews traditionally atone for transgressions between themselves and God, but wrongs committed between people cannot be atoned for, even by God, until the wrongdoer asks forgiveness. Ascherman added that in contacts with Christian and Muslim clergy, his group of rabbis condemns the acts of spitting.

The delegation met in the Old City of Jerusalem with the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Theophilos III, who spoke of the spitting phenomenon that he and his church colleagues have been confronting, but said in Christianity, it was considered a good deed to show restraint under such circumstances. In that spirit, he added, he also directed his colleagues to exercise restraint. He said the spitting was a reflection of ignorance on the part of people who don't really understand the significance of religion and faith.

Among the members of the Jewish delegation were Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosef ("Pepe" ) Alalu of the Meretz faction and Meretz city council members Laura Wharton and Meir Margalit. "Since we love this city, we felt that anything that happens here affects us," Margalit said. "We came to apologize despite the fact that we had no part in the spitting, because we believe in mutual responsibility."

Margalit noted that almost all of the members of the delegation who visited the Greek Orthodox patriarch were born abroad. "We fervently believe that what the ultra-Orthodox Jews are doing to Christians here, Christians do to Jews in the Diaspora. We know what they are feeling and we have vowed that in the Jewish state such things will not reoccur."

Next week, a similar delegation is due to visit with representatives of the Armenian Orthodox Church, whose clergy have also experienced the spitting phenomenon.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: הרבנים התנצלו בפני הכמרים