- Orthodox Jews protested against the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis to Jerusalem.
- Josh Mitnick/Wall Street Journal
Pope Francis wants to spur interfaith tolerance during a trip to the Holy Land, but a planned Papal mass at a Jerusalem holy site is stoking the embers of religious rivalry that have plagued the city for centuries.
Just days before the Pope’s arrival, hundreds of religious Jews turned out at a demonstration accusing Israel and the Vatican of conspiring to give the Catholic Church control over the Cenacle, a room revered as the spot of the Last Supper that also sits on top of a tomb thought to be that of King David.
“Can we give control over the King David to a gentile?’’ asked a speaker at the rally, which was held at the base of the Old City’s walls. “We will never give up control over King David.’’
Israel and the Vatican are in advanced negotiations to give the church expanded use at the site, but it has sparked rumors among Jewish religious hardliners that Israel’s government might cede complete control to the Vatican, claims denied by Israeli government officials.
Pope Francis will hold a service at the Cenacle on Monday, at the tail end of his visit to Israel. The room, located just outside the Old City, has a Gothic vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows with Arabic calligraphy, and an Islamic niche, a reminder that the room once functioned as a mosque. One floor below is a synagogue encompassing a large sarcophagus with a covering that reads, “The King of David is alive and exists.’’
Yitzchak Goldstein, the rabbi of the Diaspora Yeshiva, a Jewish religious seminary nearby the Cenacle, alleges that the Pope’s visit violates a British Mandate-era “status quo’’ on worship that permits individual prayer but forbids the holding of organized group prayer services at the site.
“When one religion is superior above the other, that’s when there’s a problem,’’ said Goldstien. “The trinity is an offense to the essence of Jewish belief.’’
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman denied accusations that the government had plans to hand over control of the Cenacle to the Vatican.
Israeli security officials fear that accusations over the site might spur radical pro-settler activists to carry out attacks aimed at undermining the visit, prompting the military on Wednesday to issue restraining orders against activists — at least two allegedly linked to Rabbi Goldstein’s yeshiva — from leaving their home during the visit. Already on Thursday, Special police forces were deployed to the holy site.
“They claim they’re the continuation of King David and continuation of Judaism,’’ said Ephriam Brus, who said he is frequent visitor to the site. “As a result they want that room. ‘’
Later on at the demonstration outside the Old City Walls, protestors held prayer services and did circular “horas’’ dances to religious rock music. The protest attracted both pro-settler youths and handful of prominent Israeli hardliners such as Michael Ben Ari, a former Israeli legislator who held up a sign reading “Impure Pope: Leave Our Country.’’ Mr. Ben Ari, a former follower of the radical Rabbi Meir Kahane, explained, “I want him to stay in Rome. That’s his place, this is ours.’’
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(via WSJ Blogs)