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Despite diplomatic pressure, the Chief Rabbinate on Tuesday refused to annul a ban on Jewish participation in next week's Christian-organized Feast of Tabernacles Jerusalem march due to concern that some of the participants were involved in missionary work.
The rabbinate has faced calls from Foreign Ministry officials to amend its ban on the march due to the long-standing relationship Israel has with the International Christian Embassy, which has hosted the week-long event for nearly three decades.
But a Thursday meeting meant to smooth over the issue ended with a rabbinate clarification that left the ban standing.
The annual event, which consistently draws thousands of predominantly evangelical Christian supporters of Israel from around the world, is the largest single tourism event of the year, pumping millions of dollars into Israel's economy.
The 28th annual event will include a Saturday night address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Tourism Minster Yitzhak Aharonovitch and the head of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, MK Benny Elon. More than 6,000 Christians from 90 countries around the world are expected to attend.
The latest rabbinate statement calls on the Christian Embassy to honor its assurances and avoid missionary activity "in any manner." It also urges the management of the Jerusalem International Convention Center, where the event is being held, to see to this.
While the rabbinate release praises the support of Christian friends of Israel, it goes to on to repeat the ban on Jewish participation in the march, calling missionary work "the most severe activity."
The head of the International Christian Embassy has said it is "disappointing" that rabbinic authorities are trying to discourage the Jewish public from participating in the traditional march due to concerns over missionary activity by some parts of the group.
"The International Christian Embassy has never conducted any missionary programs in Israel, and we instruct our Feast pilgrims against such activity during their stay here," International Christian Embassy Executive Director Rev. Malcolm Hedding said.
"The truth is that these Feast pilgrims are coming up to Jerusalem at Succot because the Bible invites them, and the members of the rabbinate know this well," he said, adding it was a violation of the Bible to reject the mass influx of Christian visitors over the holiday.
The unabashedly pro-Israel Christian Zionist organization has been honored by the Knesset and the Ministry of Tourism for its contribution to Israel.
The rabbinate ruling is the latest in a series of moves highlighting the divide between the Israeli public, which has been overwhelmingly supportive of Israel's ties with the world's pro-Israel evangelical Christian community, and the haredi-run Chief Rabbinate, which is seen as being out of synch with mainstream Israeli beliefs.
"The decision of the Chief Rabbinate to condemn the Feast of Tabernacles parade was based on misinformation and preconceived notions," said Josh Reinstein, the director of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus. "It has nothing to do with halachic Judaism."
The ruling also highlights the theological divide in various streams of Judaism over cooperating with the evangelicals after centuries of Christian persecution of Jews, and ongoing concerns over proselytizing.
The move comes just four months after the rabbinate banned Jewish participation in a Christian women's conference in Jerusalem due to similar concerns.
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