As sec­u­lar gather in tents, the re­li­gious take to the streets

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News -

THE IS­RAELI gov­ern­ment has sparked fury in the Ortho­dox com­mu­nity af­ter de­cid­ing to take pos­ses­sion of the burial place of sainted sec­ond-cen­tury sage Rabbi Shi­mon Bar Yochai.

Is­raeli law per­mits the state to ex­pro­pri­ate pri­vately owned land for na­tional in­ter­ests. This pro­vi­sion was con­tro­ver­sially used in the early days of the state to take pos­ses­sion of stretches of Arabowned land, but its ap­pli­ca­tion against Jewish char­i­ties like those run­ning the tomb is ex­ceed­ingly rare.

Bar Yochai, pur­ported au­thor of the Zo­har, the cen­tral text of Kab­balah, is widely seen as a ge­nius ca­pa­ble of work­ing mir­a­cles from be­yond the grave. His tomb on Mount Meron in the Galilee is the most vis­ited Jewish re­li­gious site af­ter the West­ern Wall.

Nev­er­the­less, the de­ci­sion to es­sen­tially con­fis­cate the tomb and place it un­der state own­er­ship us­ing con­tro­ver­sial laws seems puz­zling — es­pe­cially at a time when the gov­ern- ment is push­ing an ethos of pri­vate own­er­ship.

But this is Is­rael, and all bets re­gard­ing how the gov­ern­ment will act are off when it faces that great Jewish in­sti­tu­tion, the broiges. There are two hekdeshim, or trusts, that claim own­er­ship of the tomb and its sur­round­ings, both of which trace their rights back into the mists of time. One is Sephardic-run and the other Ashke­nazic-run.

They have been feud­ing for as long as any­body can re­mem­ber over who owns the site, and their dis­agree­ment has paral­ysed its de­vel­op­ment. De­spite the flow of vis­i­tors, fa­cil­i­ties there are des­per­ately lack­ing and the struc­ture sur­round­ing the tomb is old and ne­glected. There have even been wealthy donors who have wanted to pay to make the place more visi­tor-friendly, build­ing prayer houses and ri­tual baths, but the dead­lock over who had the right to ap­prove the work meant that it did not hap­pen.

Now, both trusts and their fol­low­ers are an­gry at the state’s de­ci­sion to take own­er­ship. And given that we are talk­ing about a site that brings out some 500,000 vis­i­tors on Bar Yochai’s yahrzeit alone, ex­pect large demon­stra­tions and a ma­jor face­off be­tween re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties and the gov­ern­ment.

There is, how­ever, one glim­mer of hope. If the feud­ing trusts de­cide that they de­test the idea of state own­er­ship even more than they hate the idea of shar­ing the site, they may agree on a so­lu­tion and ask the gov­ern­ment to can­cel its de­ci­sion. Gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion seems like a heavy-handed method for end­ing a broiges, but it may just work.


Cha­sidim at the con­tested burial site

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