Chief rabbis criticized for call to ban Jerusalem Christian prayer service at Temple Mount

Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group calls on AG Weinstein to open investigation into the chief rabbis for possible infractions of the Law of Freedom for Worship.

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A view of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.
The Chief Rabbinate published on Monday an open letter written on September 16 by Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef in which they call on authorities to prevent a Christian prayer service from being conducted at the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount.
Their letter was denounced by the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group, which called on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to open an investigation into the chief rabbis for possible infractions of the Law of Freedom for Worship and Public Order.
The chief rabbis are referring to a prayer vigil to be held by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem – a pro-Israel Christian Evangelical organization – as part of its annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, on October 15, which will be the seventh day of Succot.
The feast is a five-day event organized by the ICEJ for Christians to celebrate the Succot holiday in Israel, which in Jewish tradition was a time when non-Jews were invited to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and when 70 bulls were sacrificed for the 70 nations of the world during the Temple period.
In their letter, the chief rabbis claim that the prayer service being organized by the ICEJ is a joint service for Christians and Jews designed to “glorify the notion of the ‘Messiah’ according to the perspective of the Christians.”
An official with the ICEJ insisted, however, that the prayer vigil is in no way supposed to be a joint prayer session and is intended only for the Christian participants of the five-day celebration.
The official added that the ICEJ’s Feast of Tabernacles is designed to be a celebration for Christians but includes one event called Israeli Guest Night, on October 14, when Israelis are invited to an evening of cultural and musical performances at the new Jerusalem Payis Arena.
The ICEJ website for the Feast of Tabernacles said that the prayer vigil is to be devoted to “seeking the Lord together in prayer for our families, churches, and nations, as well as for Israel and the Middle East region.”
The ICEJ declined to make an official statement on the chief rabbis’ letter, however.
The chief rabbis’ letter acknowledges that “it is not possible to prevent the faithful of other religions from praying according to their beliefs.”
However, the purpose of this prayer session, the letter claims, is to “mix together faiths in a way that injures those who believe in a different faith,” and the letter calls on those responsible for approving the event to prevent it from taking place.
“The purpose of the organizers is to dig their nails into the city and the Holy Land, and to disconnect our brothers the House of Israel from the ‘land of the living,’” the letter adds, and also forbids Jews from participating.
Hiddush director Reform Rabbi Uri Regev called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan to publicly reject the request of the chief rabbis.
He also called on the attorney- general to investigate whether the chief rabbis’ letter had contravened clause 173 of the Law for Freedom of Worship and Public Order which prohibits “the publication [of something] that grossly injures the faith or religious sensitivities of others” and prohibits the use of a public place for similar purposes.
“Religious zealotry does not take into consideration the laws of the state, the values of democracy and human freedom, the strategic interests of the State of Israel, or the endangerment of Jewish communities around the world,” Regev wrote.
He said that there is no legal basis to the demands of the chief rabbis but that, conversely, “the principle of freedom of worship is enshrined in the constitutional infrastructure of the State of Israel from the prestate period, and it is ironic that the chief rabbis themselves took pride in the principle of freedom of religion that is practiced in Israel when they met with the pope a few months ago and even purported to enlist him in a campaign against hatred in the name of religion.”
The chief rabbis’ letter seems to have been prompted by a campaign organized by a hardline group of rabbis called Derech Emunah who themselves published an open letter earlier in September against the ICEJ event.
The Derech Emunah missive claims the prayer service is intended for Jews and Christians and is part of an attempt to appropriate “for the Church” more property in the Old City of Jerusalem. It calls for the service to be prevented.
The ICEJ was founded in 1980 and says its goal is “to stand with Israel in support and friendship; to equip and teach the worldwide Church regarding God’s purposes with Israel and the nations of the Middle East; and to be an active voice of reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Arabs and to support the churches and congregations of the Holy Land.
ICEJ’s projects in Israel include the running of an assisted- living home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa, and it is also active in the Gaza border region, where it has donated 25 bomb shelters.
“Coming on the heels of the recent Gaza conflict, the ICEJ’s Feast 2014 will also be a huge statement of solidarity with Israel by the thousands of Christians expected to show up for the festival,” a press statement for the organization’s Feast of Tabernacles says.