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Rabbis were split Thursday on whether to pray for the speedy recovery of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Both chief rabbis called on the public to pray for Sharon. Rabbi Shlomo Amar led a special prayer for the prime minister during a rabbinic conference near Zichron Ya'acov.
However, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed and son of former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, said it was forbidden to pray for something one did not really believe in.
"If you fear that Sharon will continue to cause pain to Jewish families if he recovers, don't pray for him," said Eliahu in response to a question from a settler who was evacuated from Gaza. The question and answer appeared on Moriya, a religious Zionist Internet site.
The settler asked Eliahu if he had to pray for Sharon, as requested by the Chief Rabbinate, even if the prayers would be ingenuous.
"Do I have to lie? Should I pray, God forbid, that he dies?" asked the settler.
Eliahu answered that one should not pray for Sharon's demise, but at the same time it was forbidden to be ingenuous in prayer.
"If you really want Sharon to continue to lead this country, pray for him. But if you fear that if Sharon recovers he will continue to hurt, don't pray for him. Or pray that he will recover but will remain on his ranch."
In more right-wing national religious schools, such as Beit Shulamit, a girls' high school in Jerusalem headed by Rabbi Avigdor Halevi Nebenzahl, rabbi of Jerusalem's Old City, students were advised not to pray for Sharon's recovery.
"They did not tell us to pray that Sharon should die," said a Beit Shulamit student. "But they also said that after all Sharon has done against Jews in Gaza and Samaria it was not appropriate to pray for his recovery."
However, many religious Zionist schools did pray for Sharon's recovery.
Rabbi Eitan Eiseman, who heads the chain of 50 Noam-Tzvia religious Zionist schools, said that as far as he knew prayers were said Thursday for Sharon.
"Is there a prohibition against praying for a Jew?" asked Eiseman. "A Jew is sick so we should pray for him. It does not mean I have to pray he remains prime minister."
Eiseman, who is also the rabbi of the Ariel youth movement, a more religious, right-wing version of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, said that settlers had the right to be bitter towards Sharon. "But a man needs to control his emotions," he added. "Being angry at him for what he did in Gaza is one thing. But this should not get in the way of praying for a fellow Jew."
Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, also said that prayers should be said for Sharon.
"Notwithstanding what he has done in the past year, Sharon is a Jew who has done a lot of good for his people," said Ariel, who is a former head of a yeshiva in Gush Katif, Gaza. "There is no danger that Sharon will come back and serve as prime minister, so why not pray for him?"
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall, said that twice as many people as usual, many of them secular, visited the site Thursday to pray for the prime minister.
"People came to my office to ask which psalms should be said and to find out what Sharon's mother's name was. I told them to pray for Ariel, the son of Vera." Asked whether there would be an organized prayer rally at the Western Wall, Rabinovitch said that he was waiting to hear from the chief rabbis.