Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef endorses Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States

Association of over 40 rabbis in 14 Muslim-majority countries helps local Jewish communities with communal needs and relations with governments

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef is seen meeting local religious leaders in the United Arab Emirates. (photo credit: COURTESY ALLIANCE OF RABBIS IN ISLAMIC STATES)
Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef is seen meeting local religious leaders in the United Arab Emirates.
 Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has given his official endorsement to the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, an association of rabbis serving Jewish communities in 14 Muslim-majority countries. 
Yosef issued a formal letter of recognition for the alliance on Monday, and noted that the recent normalization agreements with four Arab states could pave the way for greater numbers of Jewish residents and visitors to those and other Muslim nations, and increase the need for rabbinic services there. 
“During my recent visit to the United Arab Emirates I noticed that these communities have many needs and there is a necessity to work with government officials regarding religious issues which require the approval of the authorities,” said Yosef. 
“The establishment of this alliance to unite all the Jewish communities in these places with the recognition of government officials in each state is very welcome and will assist in the provision of Jewish needs of the members of these different communities.
The Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States was established two years ago and has some 40 member rabbis from 14 countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, Uganda, Nigeria, Kosovo, Albania, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, North Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, and the Russian Muslim-majority republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
It has a presidium of rabbis who advise it on issues of Jewish law, including Rabbi Shimon Gad Elituv, a member of Israel’s Council of the Chief Rabbinate; Chief Rabbi of Tunisia Rabbi Haim Bitan; and chief rabbi to Jews from Syria and Lebanon Rabbi Avraham Hamra, among others. 
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post via video call from Istanbul, chairman of the alliance Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, noted that there are some 96,500 Jews living in these countries all of whom have different communal needs often requiring unique logistical arrangements to provide them and on occasion government permits and other arrangements. 
In addition, the expected increase in tourism and business visits to places such as Morocco, Dubai, and Bahrain will bring with it further requirements for the provision of Jewish religious services and infrastructure.  
The alliance is currently assisting with the construction of a mikva in Dubai, helping hotels in Morocco prepare for to serve kosher food for up to 200,000 Israeli tourists when the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, and preparing to distribute “Seder-to-Go” packages in Turkey for this coming Passover. 
“Our purpose is to advance Jewish life in these countries and focus on Jews who still work and live in the Muslim world,” said Chitrik. 
“It is important for us to have our voice heard in countries where we live, so we work with government officials to maintain the Jewish past and sustain Jewish life in the present.”
The rabbi said that for many of the Jewish communities where the alliance is active Jews live generally at ease with their Muslim hosts and without undue harassment. 
He noted the warm embrace of the UAE authorities of the Jewish community there; the integration of Judaism into the Moroccan school curriculum; and what he described as positive ties between the Turkish Jewish community and the Turkish government, including the recent construction of five synagogues and an annual Menorah lighting ceremony over Hanukah in which government officials participate. 
“Jews are an historic part of this region. They have been in Turkey for 2,700 years, and Judaism is the oldest continually observed religion in the region. There are 2,000 year old synagogues in Turkey, and ancient synagogues in Iran, Iraq, and Morocco. Jews were an integral part of this region,” said Chitrik. 
The rabbi said he acknowledged that some Jews who lived in these countries for hundreds of years but were forced or harassed into leaving, often without their property or assets, have negative feelings towards their former host nations, but said that his organization was dedicated to advancing Jewish life today. 
“The importance of our alliance is to have rabbis who live with and are part of the community, who are part of the Jewish and spiritual life in these countries and who can maintain, strengthen and empower it in the future.”