Ahead of Pope Francis's Mass prayers on Monday afternoon at the "Room of the Last Supper," located in the King David's Tomb Compound, the liberal group Hiddush - Freedom of Religion for Israel has called to change the status quo of the site, endangering Jewish prayer rights.
Hiddush CEO Uri Regev, a Reform Rabbi formerly involved in official Reform movement leadership, said the prayer service "expresses a liberal and tolerant outlook." The "Last Supper" room is located on the floor right above King David's Tomb, and right below a Muslim mosque.
"In the spirit of hope for inter-religious harmony and reconciliation, every effort must be made to allow the different religions to enjoy access and worship, with full respect for others, and share these sites," stated Regev, calling for set Christian prayers at the site.
41 Jews were arrested between Saturday night and Sunday morning while protesting the reported plans that Israel intends to let Catholics hold fixed prayers in the David's Tomb Compound.
Rabbi Avraham Goldstein, the Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of the Diaspora Yeshiva located in the Compound, shed some light on how those plans could effectively hand over the site to the Vatican.
In an interview with Arutz Sheva, he noted the move would prevent Jews from entering the holy site altogether, given that Jewish law forbids using a building used for idol-worship - a category which Catholic worship, with its use of effigies, falls under according to Jewish law.
"On the one hand (the state) claims it will not limit Jewish traffic at the site and will not transfer ownership of the Tomb; while on the other hand it may make changes which from the perspective of Jewish law prevent Jews from praying at the site," said Rabbi Goldstein.
The rabbi added that facts were being created on the ground, noting a wall that was built in the last few years in the middle of the Compound which essentially cuts off access to other sections, as well as a locked gate which limited the flow of foot traffic, changes that have run a Jewish-owned kiosk out of business.
"In return, give us back the stolen Temple treasures"
Regev for his part called for separate entrances to each floor of the Compound to avoid "friction."
In return for giving the Catholic church effective control over the Compound, Regev said "we should expect the Vatican to similarly make gracious gestures ...such as returning the Jewish cultural and religious treasures looted from Jewish communities throughout history that are now stored in the Vatican."
Indeed the Arch of Titus in Rome, erected shortly after Emperor Titus's death in 81 CE, clearly depicts Roman soldiers bringing to Rome the golden candelabrum and other Temple artifacts. Jerusalem Councilman Aryeh King refused to welcome the pope unless he would "bring in his suitcase the treasures of the Jewish people that were stolen by his predecessors."
Regev condemned the Chief Rabbis for not giving the pope "greater access for Christian worship in the Room of the Last Supper" during their meeting with him on Monday, "especially amidst the increasing fundamentalist Orthodox voices that have violently spoken against allowing Christian services there."
Apparently the Defense Department concurs with Regev's sentiment; Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, head of the Temple Institute, told Arutz Sheva last week that he received a letter from security sources telling him not to "disturb the quiet" near King David's Tomb during the pope's visit.
Rabbi Ariel noted that "according to the law on holy sites, David's Tomb is a holy site to the Jews; giving part of the Compound to Christians will create a halakhic (Jewish legal) problem for us to pray there, it's an infringement of our rights."
While the pope did not bring the stolen Temple treasures with him during the trip, he did bring plenty of controversy.
On Sunday he called the Palestinian Authority (PA) the "state of Palestine." He likewise made an unexpected stop at the security barrier between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, built to prevent terror attacks, to pray at a section with "free Palestine" spray-painted on it, drawing criticism from Israel.