Chief Rabbis Condemn Jewish-Christian Prayer Vigil

Joint statement seen as part of campaign against cooperating with evangelical groups; Temple Mount vigil scheduled for Sukkot holiday.

A Portugese woman in a parade of Christians supporting Israel. Jerusalem, Sukkot 2002
A Portugese woman participating in a march through Jerusalem on Sept. 24, 2002, as groups of Christians showed their support for Israel on Sukkot. AP

Israel’s two chief rabbis on Monday condemned an upcoming interfaith prayer vigil near the Temple Mount and called on the authorities to prevent it from taking place, in what appears to be part of a larger campaign against cooperating with evangelical groups.

The prayer vigil is being organized by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, which brings together evangelical Christians from North America who are enthusiastic supporters of Israel, and is scheduled to take place during the Sukkot holiday next month, on the last morning of the Christian Embassy’s annual Feast of Tabernacles.

The group has invited Jews to attend the vigil, but Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef urged their followers not to go.

“To our brethren of the House of Israel we will say: Do not join this assembly, whose purpose is to prevent the true redemption of Israel,” read a joint statement by the chief rabbis. “According to our holy Torah, we must keep away from this event, and it is forbidden to join them in any way.”

Lau and Yosef also called on the authorities responsible for issuing a permit for the vigil “to prevent the gathering from taking place.” The event is scheduled to take place at Hulda Gate, at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

The chief rabbis’ statement appears to indicate that they have accepted the arguments of an organization campaigning against the vigil called Rabbanei Derekh Emunah, meaning “Rabbis of the Path of Faith” and comprised of several rabbis from the Old City of Jerusalem and religious Zionist leaders. The group says the vigil is intended to be a missionary activity.

Posters in Jerusalem put up by the group say attempts to portray the vigil as harmless are deliberate acts of deception on the part of missionaries who seek to attract Jews and strengthen the church’s hold on holy sites in the Old City, and are signed by prominent rabbis including Shlomo Aviner, head of the Old City’s Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim; Avigdor Nebenzahl, the former chief rabbi of the Old City; and Simcha Hakohen Kook, the rabbi of the Old City’s Hurva Synagogue and the chief rabbi of Rehovot.

The chief rabbis wrote that although “the mountain of the Temple of the Lord serves as a magnificent mountain for many of the world’s inhabitants, of all faiths,” the interfaith vigil must not be allowed because it is a ceremony aimed at harming Jews.

“The mutual respect between the faiths must be preserved in a way that causes no harm to one religion or the other,” the chief rabbis said in their statement. “And in this case that balance does not exist.”