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Remembering the Synagogues of Gush Katif

Special event in memory of the 26 Gush Katif synagogues that were destroyed five years ago was held in the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Old City.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 8/19/2010, 1:50 PM / Last Update: 8/19/2010, 3:32 PM

A special event in memory of the 26 synagogues in Gush Katif that were destroyed five years ago was held in the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday. Dozens of people took part in special prayer services, with the participation of Haifa’s Chief Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen and others.

Rabbi Cohen said that five years ago, “the man who is now the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, said that everyone knew that there was no way that the Arabs would fulfill their promises not to destroy the synagogues. So he asked us in the Chief Rabbinate whether it would be better for us to destroy the synagogues ourselves, in order to prevent enemy hands from touching them, or to simply remove everything from the synagogues in the knowledge that the Arabs would vandalize them. I said to him: Can you imagine in your wildest dreams that when Titus came to Jerusalem to burn the Holy Temple, that the Jews would burn it themselves?!”

Rabbi Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba-Hevron, said that the gathering was a manifestation of the Sages’ remark that “Whoever mourns the downfall of Jerusalem, will certainly merit to take part in the joy of its rebuilding.”

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, currently the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan who once served as the Dean of Gush Katif’s flagship Yeshivat Yamit, said afterwards, “We have to remember Gush Katif, and synagogues symbolize this living memory most of all – as from a Halakhic [Jewish legal] standpoint, a synagogue that has collapsed or was destroyed remains in its sanctity; even the pile of ruins must be treated with respect. And especially the synagogues in Gush Katif, which were the centers of the holy communities of Gush Katif where so much Torah was fulfilled both between man and G-d and between man and man – they symbolize for us what was Gush Katif.”

INN’s Yoni Kempinski asked Rabbi Ariel about the dispute of five years ago regarding whether the IDF should abandon the synagogues. “We are comforted in a minor way in that at least it wasn’t Jews who destroyed them,” Rabbi Ariel answered. “For a Jew to destroy a synagogue is a violation of Torah law, according to Maimonides, and certainly at least a Rabbinic violation and desecration of G-d’s Name. With all the pain involved, it was better that non-Jews did the destruction and not Jews.”

Despite this, and despite the time that has passed, the Victims of Arab Terror organization released a statement calling upon the Israeli government to “demand that the perpetrators of the sacrilege of the destruction of the Jewish holy places be brought to trial, and that compensation be claimed.”

Rabbi Nachman Kahane of the Old City said, “The withdrawal from Gush Katif, including the destruction of the synagogues, is one of the indelible stains on the history of our young state, in addition to when we gave away the Temple Mount and the Machpelah Cave in Hevron. Only G-d in His infinite compassion can forgive us for these acts. Everybody has a hand in these sins: There are a million Jews abroad who should be here, and we ourselves should have been more proactive… The Torah of Israel is like a steamroller, continuing forever, from generation to generation; whoever gets in its way, comes out in a very difficult position… Despite all the forces around us, the Land of Israel is one big synagogue in and of itself, and it can never be destroyed. We will go from strength to strength, until we reach the final destination that G-d has set out for us.”