Jerusalem rabbis instruct hotels to drop Christmas trees
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Jerusalem rabbis instruct hotels to drop Christmas trees

Israel's Chief Rabbinate says the city's directive, which also takes aim at New Year's parties, is a 'private initiative'

Illustrative image of a Christmas tree (CC BY Johnny Lai, Flickr)
Illustrative image of a Christmas tree (CC BY Johnny Lai, Flickr)

The Jerusalem rabbinate has called on hotels in the city not to erect Christmas trees or host New Year’s Eve parties, according to a letter that emerged Tuesday.

The letter, addressed to hotel managers and signed by the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem, stated: “As the secular year ends we want to remind you that erecting a Christmas tree in a hotel contravenes halacha [Jewish law] and that therefore it is clear that one should not erect [a tree] in a hotel.

“It is also appropriate to avoid hosting parties to mark the end of the secular year. We wish to remind you that our new year occurs on the first of [the Hebrew month of] Tishrei, in an atmosphere of holiness, with the happiness of mitzva.”

Although the letter does not threaten sanctions, it could be interpreted as a veiled threat, in contravention of guidelines issued by the Chief Rabbinate in 2015 asserting that kashrut inspectors could not revoke the kosher certification from hotels and other establishments over photography, music or movie screenings on Shabbat, or if a Christmas tree was displayed during the holiday season.

Illustrative photo of a man dressed as Santa Claus with a Christmas tree, outside of Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a man dressed as Santa Claus with a Christmas tree, outside of Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A spokesperson for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate said that the letter was not connected to the kashrut licensing authority. “This was a private initiative from the Jerusalem rabbinate. The purpose was to request that [hotels] remove Christmas decorations out of consideration for the feelings of those members of the public who observe mitzvot,” he told the Kipa website.

The Israel Hotels Association said it was concerned the directive could prove detrimental to Christian tourism.

Last year’s guidelines were issued following a petition by the Israeli group Hiddush, which threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court if the existing regulations weren’t changed.

Hiddush said the Chief Rabbinate had been in violation of the Kosher Fraud Law established in 2013, which states that “the kashrut inspector should only consider standards of kashrut alone in certifying an establishment as kosher.”

According to a Supreme Court ruling, basing an establishment’s kosher certification on considerations such as Sabbath observance or modesty was in contravention of the law.

Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush, said on Monday, “We have heard of [local] rabbinates that do not consider themselves bound by the law or the ruling of the Supreme court. We understand the sensitive situation that hotels find themselves in, and offer our assistance in enforcing the law against renegade rabbinates, which are publicly funded by the state but disregard its laws.”

Separately, the rabbi of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa forbade students to enter the student union building due to a Christmas tree placed there.

Rabbi Elad Dokow, writing on the Srugim website, described the tree as an attack on Jewish identity. “It is not a Christian religious symbol but, even worse, a pagan one,” he wrote. Therefore he said, students may not enter the building to purchase food or for any other reason.

He described the tree as “anti-Jewish,” not simply as anti-religious.

MK Youssef Jabareen of the Joint (Arab) List wrote to the head of the Technion calling the rabbi’s words were incitement to racism, Haaretz reported, and saying that such an attitude harms relations on campus between Jews and Arabs. He called on the Technion to dismiss the rabbi.

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