Israeli University Rabbi Forbids Jews From Entering Student Union Due to Christmas Tree

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.'

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The Christmas tree in the Technion student union, December 20, 2016.
The Christmas tree in the Technion student union, December 20, 2016.Credit: Rami Shllush

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.”

The Christmas tree and a menorah in the Technion student union, December 20, 2016. Credit: 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.

Students posing for a selfie in front of the Christmas tree located inside the student union of the Technion, December 20, 2016. Credit: Rami Shllush

"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 honor 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 offense,” 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.

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