Jewish pilgrims clash with Christian worshipers outside iconic Haifa church

Stella Maris, a Catholic house of worship, is believed by some to be burial place of Prophet Elisha; has become flashpoint as Breslov Hasidic movement members try to pray outside

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Worshipers leave the Stella Maris church in Haifa, Israel after a service on July 20, 2023. (Canaan Lidor)
Worshipers leave the Stella Maris church in Haifa, Israel after a service on July 20, 2023. (Canaan Lidor)

Jewish pilgrims clashed with Christian worshipers at a church in Haifa on Wednesday night, prompting police to briefly block the road leading to the site.

The clashes, which ended without serious injuries, erupted when several dozen pilgrims, most of them belonging to the Breslov Hasidic movement, arrived at the Stella Maris church in southwestern Haifa.

It was unclear how exactly the clashes began.

Thousands of Christians are expected to arrive at Stella Maris on Thursday evening for a protest rally, which had already been scheduled prior to the clashes Wednesday in connection with previous attempts in recent months by Haredi Jews to pray near the church.

An iconic Catholic church, it is believed by some scholars and observant Jews to be the burial place of Prophet Elisha, the successor of Prophet Elijah. In recent months, pilgrims from the Breslov movement have added the church to their itineraries on trips focused on the graves of Jewish sages. Pilgrims contacted by The Times of Israel have said they seek to pray outside the church while touching a corner of the building’s façade.

Christian men have formed volunteer guard groups in a bid to prevent this. On several occasions, the Christian men have shoved away the Jewish pilgrims, whom the locals accuse of fabricating — with the hardline right-wing government’s tacit support — a Jewish significance at Stella Maris to dispossess local Christians.

Pilgrims who have organized trips to Stella Maris reject this, calling the Christians’ behavior illegal and intolerant.

Police did not immediately reply to a query by the Times of Israel as to their deployment outside the church and assessment of the situation.

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