The Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa has been a focal point of recent Jewish-Christian tensions in the Holy Land. President Isaac Herzog visited the monastery earlier this week to reaffirm the State of Israel’s commitment to its Christian population.
But why Stella Maris?
The reason this particular monastery was the location for Herzog’s rapprochement with Church leaders became clear following a report by the Hebrew-language Walla News site.
For some time now, members of the Shuvu Bonim Yeshiva, which is associated with the Breslov Hasidic movement, have been making pilgrimages to the Christian monastery and holding prayer services outside its gates.
The Stella Maris Monastery belongs to the Carmelite Order of the Catholic Church, and is believed to contain the grotto where the biblical prophet Elijah lived. The Breslov believe that ancient Jewish sources place the tomb of Elijah’s successor, Elisha, adjacent to the former’s living space. Or, inside Stella Maris. And they want to be able to pray near the great prophet’s supposed burial place.
Church officials deny that Elisha is buried in the monastery. The traditional location of the prophet’s tomb is in Dothan in the region of Samaria.
Christians pray at Jewish sites, so why not vica versa?
Given the recent tensions, the head of the Shuvu Bonim Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, this week instructed his followers to temporarily halt their pilgrimages to Stella Maris. A representative of the yeshiva told Walla that Berland was negotiating with Israeli authorities to authorize a place for Jews to continue praying outside the monastery.
Contrary to other reports, a senior official with Shuvu Bonim told Walla that “we have no desire to occupy or take over the Stella Maris Monastery, or to harass the Christians there.”
He said the religious Jews simply wanted to pray near the holy site, “just as Christians visit the Western Wall and King David’s tomb in Jerusalem.”
Regrettable Christian response
The situation would seem like a prime opportunity for Christians to show the love of Jesus to his Jewish brethren. To build bridges with religious Jews and witness to them.
But instead, Church leaders have condemned the Jewish pilgrims and accused them of trying to “Judaize” the site.
A Church spokesmen criticized the police for negotiating with the religious Jews, rather than simply barring them from the Christian premises.
“Instead of deterring those who conducted nine provocative visits to Stella Maris, the police negotiate with them and might allow them to hold prayers in the vicinity of Stella Maris,” read the statement, which added that Jewish prayers so close to the Christian monastery would be a “source of tension between them and the Christian community in northern Israel.”
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