Haifa church erects metal gates to prevent Jews entering Cave of Elisha

Haifa church erects metal gates to prevent Jews entering Cave of Elisha

Fences were erected around the Stella Maris Church in Haifa in order to prevent Jews from entering. The action comes after several months of disruptive visits by Hasidic Jews who believe a grotto inside the church was the final resting place of the Prophet Elisha. Catholics believe the grotto is associated with the Prophet Elijah.

“Extremist Israeli groups have on several occasions in recent weeks attempted to storm the Stella Maris Monastery and Catholic church in the northern port city of Haifa, Israel, prompting Christians to take measures to protect the holy site,” The Catholic News Agency reported. “After several attempts last week, intruders managed to infiltrate the outer courtyard of the monastery and disrupt the prayer session taking place, causing fear and anger among the Christian community.”

The visits by the ultra-Orthodox Jews are not solely for the purpose of prayer and occasionally are focused on vandalizing the church.

Wadih Abu Nassar, an adviser to several churches in the Holy Land, commented on the installation of the fence in a post on his Facebook page, saying: “The gates will contribute to facilitating filing a complaint against those who jump over the gates and walls of the monastery as an aggressor. It will also facilitate protecting the monastery from attacks.” 

The visits have been met with consternation by the local community.

The Stella Maris church in southwestern Haifa is a Catholic monastery for Discalced Carmelite monks, located on the slopes of Mount Carmel in Haifa. The main church inside the Stella Maris Monastery is said to contain the Cave of Elijah, a grotto where according to the Old Testament, the Prophet Elijah lived for some time. Inside the cave, there is an altar carved into the rock, with a small statue of the Prophet. The current church and monastery, built under the orders of Brother Cassini of the Order, was opened in 1836.

According to Jewish tradition, first recorded in writing in the 13th century and later records, the tomb in the grotto in the church is the tomb of Elisha the prophet, a student of Elijah the prophet.

The entrance to the grotto is inside the church. This makes it problematic for Jews to access the site as it is forbidden to enter places where idols, icons, or religious statues are found. Praying at gravesites, even those of Biblical characters, is not a commandment, and even if it were, there is a religious axiom that a mitzvah (Biblical commandment) cannot be performed by transgressing a Biblical prohibition.

Beginning in May, Orthodox Jews adhering to the Breslov Hasidic sect began to arrive at the Stella Maris Church, attempting to enter the grotto. Many, though not all, of the Jewish visitors to the site are students of Rabbi Eliezer Berland at Shuvu Achim Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. They are doing so in the belief that they are emulating Rabbi Nathan of Breslov (1780-1844), one of the main disciples of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, the founder of Breslov Chassidus. In his writings, Rabbi Nathan describes a joyous visit to the site in 1823, between the period when it was dismantled in 1821, and rebuilding was begun in 1836. The church at the site was in ruins at the time of his visit, with no icons, making it halachically permissible for him to access the site. The Shuvu Achim Yeshiva did not respond to inquiries and it is unclear why the attempts to visit the site only began a few months ago. During a visit by the Minister of Religion Yitzhak Vakhnin in 2019, Rabbi Dov Kook, a renowned kabbalist from Tiberias, made a special request that the cross over the burial site of Elisha be removed. The cross is situated in such a way that people passing through the especially low entrance of the cave are required to bow down. Implicit in Rabbi Kook’s request is the understanding that if the cross is removed, Jews are permitted to enter the site. It should be emphasized that this does not represent a definitive rabbinic ruling and is only one possible understanding.

The post Haifa church erects metal gates to prevent Jews entering Cave of Elisha appeared first on Israel365 News.

Israel in the News