Is this provocation?
When I first saw the video below, I was horrified. How could there be such violence against Jews in my home city of Haifa? Haifa prides itself on being a model of co-existence that is home to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, with Jews lying on all points along the secular to ultra-Orthodox gradient. Surely this must be a disturbing anomaly.
In this video shared around the social media (videographer unknown), we see a vicious attack against Breslov Hassids who were praying at the entrance to the church at the Stella Maris Convent on Mount Carmel in Haifa. All that I can make out from the sound is the Jew saying “Don’t hurt me” and the Arab repeatedly shouting to him to leave the place.
Aside from occasional political demonstrations (against the Nation State Law, for example), I have not witnessed open animosity among the constituent communities in the city. One can find, however, scattered news reports of violence that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. For example, a case of secular residents of the Romema neighbourhood and Breslov Hassids when the latter began taking over their local synagogue even though they did not live in Romema. Other cases involved a group of young Arabs who beat Jews on the municipal light-rail after verifying that they were Jewish and adult Arabs who assaulted a rabbi on the street on Yom Kippur. Of course, there may have been other instances that did not make it into the news.
The site of this altercation from Thursday (15 June 2023) occurred at what is purported, by some, to be the resting place of the Prophet Elisha – Kever Elisha.
The prophet, Elisha, was a disciple of Eliyahu (Elijah), also regarded as a prophet by the Muslims and Christians. Elisha seems to have had even greater powers of prophecy than his teacher. While the burial place of Eliyahu is known and a recognized place of pilgrimage in Haifa, it appears that nobody is certain of the location of Elisha’s burial place.
Some Jews believe he was buried in a cave over which the Stella Maris Convent was built or next to Eliyahu’s grave. Church officials told Walla News [in Hebrew] that Christians do not believe that Elisha, who they revere as a prophet as well, is buried at that site.
According to Wikipedia, Christians believe he was buried next to John the Baptist in Sabastia in Samaria. Moslems believe he was buried either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey.
In any case, members of a branch of Breslov Hassids began coming to Stella Maris in the past few weeks to pray at the entrance to the Convent, as we can see in the video above. This has been previously unheard of.
Israel Hayom [in Hebrew] reports that Church officials were surprised:
… that the police were so quick in apprehending the Christian man who chased the Jewish provocateurs away from the entrance to Stella Maris Convent while they did not apprehend any of the Jews who have come repeatedly to pray inside and at the entrance to the Convent in a provocative manner.
And the Jews pray inside the church as well, as shown in lower video in the following Tweet.
והנה תיעוד של הפרובוקטורים הברסלבים האלה, ככה״נ מ״שובו בנים״, כשהם כבר מתפללים בתוך הכנסיה של המנזר, וממש בקודש הקודשים שלה. כפי שאמרנו ביום הראשון להופעתם: צרה בהתהוות. בטוב זה לא ייגמר. pic.twitter.com/mwkBi2HYzS
— יואב איתיאל מדווח כי (@yoavetiel) June 16, 2023
The man filming politely asks what they are doing praying there. “Is there a reason you are praying here?” One of the Jews responds that this is the place where Elisha is buried. The filmer continues: “But this is a place for the nuns.” And the Jew responds that we are all human beings.
Is this provocation? If they truly believe that Elisha is buried under that spot, is praying there a provocation? I do agree with the Church officials who complained that the worshipers never requested permission, nor did they even inform the Church of their intention to begin praying there. It seems common decency to do so. However, we get a hint that the church officials would have denied them permission to pray there since Walla News reported church officials saying that the church is exclusively for Christian worship and they want to end this “provocative phenomenon for good.”
According to the ultra-Orthodox news website, Kikar HaShabbat, the Church announced that
dozens of religious Jewish settlers are entering the courtyard of the St. Elijah Cathedral serving the Catholic Christians of Haifa, invading every corner of the yard and beginning to pray. This is an aggressive breach against one of the most sacred sites to the Christian community. [Note: It seems that Kikar erred here in naming this church since this is the name of another church in downtown Haifa having nothing to do with Elijah’s tomb or the possible burial place of Elisha. In any case, it is instructive to note the tone and the language used.]
Kikar claims that those coming to pray at the Convent are not Haifa residents. It is not clear upon what authority they make that claim but just making it makes it seem like the author accepts that this is unacceptable and provocative behaviour. It would be helpful to know if the church and its grounds are public or private land as that would have some bearing on the issue.
A day after the incident, a 53-year-old man was arrested for the assault but was soon released pending further investigation. The Haifa Haredi news website, 970.co.il, was the only publication to provide some pertinent background information on the man. According to 970, he was arrested in the past for assaulting a bank security guard on HaNevi’im Street in Haifa. And in another instance, he was indicted for assaulting a public servant when he punched and pushed a municipal employee. Does this information change how we view the situation?
The violence is wrong whatever you think about seeing Breslov Hassids praying loudly at the entrance to a church, as we can hear in this Tweet,
פרובוקציה חדשה: חסידי ברסלב שמגיעים להתפלל דווקא על דלת הכנסיה של מנזר סטלה מאריס בחיפה, לא מסבירים מדוע ולמה, לא מתקשרים עם הנזירים המבוהלים שרובם אינם דוברי עברית. העיקר למשוך תשומת לב ולהפריע. צרה בהתהוות. pic.twitter.com/J6qZQ2j1EE
— יואב איתיאל מדווח כי (@yoavetiel) May 23, 2023
and more quietly inside the building. It should be taken seriously and punished to the full extent of the law.
Regardless of your views on praying at the burial sites of our sages, is it a provocation when a Jew prays in a church under which he believes there is a sage’s tomb?