Times of Israel 1) and Haaretz (2)
Lighting the Christmas tree in Bethlehem, with fireworks, December 3rd, 2016. Photo from Safa PS/ Palestinian press agency
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate says the city’s directive, which also takes aim at New Year’s parties, is a ‘private initiative’
By Times of Israel staff
December 20, 2016
The Jerusalem rabbinate has called on hotels in the city not to erect Christmas trees or host New Year’s Eve parties, according to a letter that emerged Tuesday.
The letter, addressed to hotel managers and signed by the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem, stated: “As the secular year ends we want to remind you that erecting a Christmas tree in a hotel contravenes halacha [Jewish law] and that therefore it is clear that one should not erect [a tree] in a hotel.
“It is also appropriate to avoid hosting parties to mark the end of the secular year. We wish to remind you that our new year occurs on the first of [the Hebrew month of] Tishrei, in an atmosphere of holiness, with the happiness of mitzva.”
Although the letter does not threaten sanctions, it could be interpreted as a veiled threat, in contravention of guidelines issued by the Chief Rabbinate in 2015 asserting that kashrut inspectors could not revoke the kosher certification from hotels and other establishments over photography, music or movie screenings on Shabbat, or if a Christmas tree was displayed during the holiday season.
Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus with a Christmas tree, outside Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90
A spokesperson for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate said that the letter was not connected to the kashrut licensing authority. “This was a private initiative from the Jerusalem rabbinate. The purpose was to request that [hotels] remove Christmas decorations out of consideration for the feelings of those members of the public who observe mitzvot,” he told the Kipa website.
The Israel Hotels Association said it was concerned the directive could prove detrimental to Christian tourism.
Last year’s guidelines were issued following a petition by the Israeli group Hiddush, which threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court if the existing regulations weren’t changed.
Hiddush said the Chief Rabbinate had been in violation of the Kosher Fraud Law established in 2013, which states that “the kashrut inspector should only consider standards of kashrut alone in certifying an establishment as kosher.”
According to a Supreme Court ruling, basing an establishment’s kosher certification on considerations such as Sabbath observance or modesty was in contravention of the law.
Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush, said on Monday, “We have heard of [local] rabbinates that do not consider themselves bound by the law or the ruling of the Supreme court. We understand the sensitive situation that hotels find themselves in, and offer our assistance in enforcing the law against renegade rabbinates, which are publicly funded by the state but disregard its laws.”
Separately, the rabbi of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa forbade students to enter the student union building due to a Christmas tree placed there.
Rabbi Elad Dokow, writing on the Srugim website, described the tree as an attack on Jewish identity. “It is not a Christian religious symbol but, even worse, a pagan one,” he wrote. Therefore he said, students may not enter the building to purchase food or for any other reason.
He described the tree as “anti-Jewish,” not simply as anti-religious.
The Christmas tree in the Technion student union, December 20, 2016. Photo by Rami Shllush
After Rabbi Elad Dokow calls tree an ‘affront to Jewish identity on campus,’ Technion says in response that it ‘allows students from all religions to express themselves with respect and tolerance.’
By Noa Shpigel and Jack Khoury, Haaretz premium
December 21, 2016
Rabbi Elad Dokow of the Technion issued a prohibition against Jewish students entering the university’s student union due to the Christmas tree that has been put up in the building.
“The Christmas tree is a religious symbol – not Christian, but even more problematic – pagan,” Dokow wrote in a question-and-answer section on the religious Srugim website. “Halakha clearly states that whenever it is possible to circumvent and not pass through a place where there is any kind of idolatry, this must be done. So one should not enter the student union if it’s not necessary to do so.”
The Technion responded that Dokay had expressed his opinion on his personal Facebook page and his words “expressed his personal opinion and not that of the Technion.”
The institution, it declared, was determined to continue being a perfect example for tolerance and coexistence in Israeli society.”
Dokay said that he wrote the prohibition “in wake of the student union’s affront to the Jewish identity on campus, by placing a Christmas tree (if only there were a menorah of that size)… in the public space (the student union) and giving a place to religious Christian identity in the heart of the Technion.”
Asked if it was permissible to buy food or eat in the student union, the rabbi replied, “Unfortunately, I do not see any way to permit this, especially since there is a problem with uttering God’s name and reciting blessings in a place where such problematic things are found.”
Technion students take a selfie in front of the Christmas tree in the Technion students’ union. December 20, 2016. Photo by Rami Shllush
Explaining his objection, the rabbi wrote, “This is an anti-Jewish and not just an anti-‘religious’ symbol. Is it conceivable that in the name of some type of liberty we would let students declare that Jerusalem does not belong to the Jewish people as was done by UNESCO? Must we accept everything without reservation or limit? In the name of acceptance, would we sanction a Spanish food festival that prominently featured pork (I served as a rabbi in Madrid and that is the national food there)?”
The rabbi also wrote it would not be sufficient if a menorah were also placed there next to the tree, because “it would be paired with something that represents the total antithesis of the Hasmoneans’ entire struggle.” Dokow added, “I would have expected something different from an academic institution – an approach that is more scientific and intellectually and ethically thoughtful.”
Asked whether freedom of worship extended to all citizens, the rabbi answered, “This is not about freedom of worship. It’s about the public space of the campus. This is the world’s only Jewish state. And it has a role to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and not to uncritically embrace every idea.”
“Even before the Technion opened it gates about 100 years ago, its founders stated that the institution they hoped to build would be open to all, irrespective of religion, ethnicity and gender,” the Technion said in its response.
“As a result, all Technion students study side-by-side today an in full equality – Jewish students, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druze, Circassions, religious and secular. They are in deep and constant dialogue that is open and tolerant and serves as a perfect example for tolerance and coexistence in Israeli society.
“The Technion students union also believes that the Technion has to be open to students of all religions and communities. Thus, student representatives from all social, religious and cultural affiliations sit together on the management of the student union.
“The union, it goes without saying, celebrates all the Jewish festivals and, concurrently, it allows students from other religions to express themselves with respect and tolerance. The different festivals are celebrated in a range of ways, including, in this case, a Christmas tree beside the Hanukkah menorah.
“Just as Haifa celebrated the annual “Festival of Festivals” and other cities around the world have public ceremonies in which the Hanukkah candles are lit, the students union wanted to give voice to all religions together, with the emphasis on connection and not division.
“It’s also worth mentioning that hundreds of students from all over the world study int the Technion’s international school, and they too should be respected.
“We are determined to continue being a perfect example for tolerance and coexistence in Israeli society.”
Technion student Peter Hana said that the decision to decorate the student union with a Christmas tree and Santa hats was reached by a number of students, and was done in order to generate a festive atmosphere. A Hanukkah lamp was also put in place in honour of Hanukkah.
“An absolute majority of students, as well as management and the dean, expressed their support for the initiative, and only a handful of students and the rabbi himself chose to come out against it. We’re pleased with the great sympathy shown and the position of the management, which welcomed the initiative and came out against any negative expressions on the matter,” he added.
In a message to Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie, MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List argued that the rabbi’s words constitute incitement and that he should therefore be fired. “There’s no need to elaborate on the gravity of these statements, and the serious offense to the Technicon’s Arab students and to Israeli Arabs in general. These statements contain clear incitement to racism, in violation of the law, and therefore also constitute a serious criminal offence,” Jabareen wrote.
The MK says such statements harm the fabric of Jewish-Arab relations and thus stand in stark contradiction to the Technion’s impressive efforts over the last few years to integrate Arab students. Jabareen called for Dokow’s immediate dismissal as rabbi of the Technion synagogue. He also called on the school’s administration to denounce his statements, and to call upon students to come and partake of the cultural richness at the student union.