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David's Tomb Status Quo Breached by Catholic Mass Services

Footage shows David's Tomb Compound has been handed over to fixed Catholic worship, endangering Jewish prayer rights.
By Shimon Cohen, Ari Yashar
First Publish: 6/9/2014, 12:49 PM

Crosses at King David's Tomb for Mass
Crosses at King David's Tomb for Mass
Yonatan Yosef

Contrary to Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich's promises to Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chair MK Miri Regev (Likud-Beytenu) in mid-May not to change the status quo at King David's Tomb, that status has been breached in a move endangering Jewish prayer at the holy site.

Rabbi Dvir Tal, dean of the King David Yeshiva, which is attached to the Diaspora Yeshiva on the site of the David's Tomb Compound, told Arutz Sheva about the Catholic Mass services which were conducted at the site on Sunday, and which he reports have been held weekly since Pope Francis conducted Mass at the site two weeks ago on Monday.

Video footage, courtesy of Rabbi Tal, exposes the Mass prayers held on the second floor of the David's Tomb Compound, which Christians term the "Room of the Last Supper." The rabbi reports hundreds of Christian visitors, priests, Catholic monks and nuns praying at the site, as evidenced by the film.

In another video clip filmed slightly later, police stop Rabbi Tal from entering the second floor of the Compound while the Mass prayers are in session.

The police are seen refusing Rabbi Tal's requests for an explanation as to why he is being forbidden from entering as he has done for many years on Sundays. In the clip, Christian visitors are seen entering and exiting freely, even as Jews are forbidden access.

Rabbi Tal is heard saying he's being prevented from going up because of the Mass services, which have been conducted since the Pope's visit two weeks ago.

It should be noted that the institution of regular Catholic prayers at the site constitute a severe breach of Jewish prayer rights.

Rabbi Avraham Goldstein, dean of the Diaspora Yeshiva, told Arutz Sheva in May that Jews will be prevented from entering the holy site altogether due to the Mass services, 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.

Rabbi Tal reports that during the Mass service on Sunday, incense was burned, the scent of which spread throughout the Compound, engulfing the Tomb of King David on the ground floor as well. Christian visitors brought massive crosses to the prayers, and placed them in the "Room of the Last Supper" for the service.

Additional testimony was given to Arutz Sheva by Rabbi Yaakov Sevilia, an activist for King David's Tomb. Rabbi Sevilia reported that lit candles were placed in the floor of the room in the shape of a cross.

"There's a great pain here; it is hard to describe the depth of our frustration over the reality in which right above the Tomb of King David - David who every Jew is connected to and who the full redemption is dependent upon - they let idol-worship happen, which is more severe than murder and sexual indecency," said Rabbi Tal, noting Jewish law's position on the three cardinal sins.

"A gesture to the pope"

Rabbi Tal emphasized that the priests and monks at the prayers were associated with the Catholic church, as opposed to any other stream or order of Christianity. He argues that this point shows the Mass prayers indicate a gesture to the pope after his visit.

As seen in the second video above, Rabbi Tal noted that police blocked Jewish access to the Compound. Police did not respond to his requests to know why, giving him the impression that they were given orders not to speak with anyone about the new restrictions.

When he asked the officers if the Mass prayers currently being conducted were the same as those held once or twice a year, he was given to understand from their response that that was not the case.

Rabbi Tal reports that in all his years at the Compound, he has never seen Mass services held day after day as he has since the pope's visit.

Responding in prayer

Another Christian prayer service is anticipated at the site on Monday, says Rabbi Tal, noting his King David Yeshiva is preparing a prayer protest in response.

The prayer will be held at 3 p.m. on Monday; all are invited to participate. "This is the minimal thing that can be done, to pray to G-d that He will rule over us," noted the rabbi.

When asked whether the establishment of fixed Catholic prayer at the site would create a Jewish legal problem in his view, Rabbi Tal said there are opinions that Jews are forbidden to enter places that are fixed as places of idol-worship prayer, even if that was done at a later stage.

For his part, Rabbi Tal gives the opinion that the requirement to settle and conquer the land of Israel is stronger than the law forbidding entry to the site in such a case, and that it was preferable to enter than to give full control to the Church.

At the same time, Rabbi Tal emphasized that both views stem from the same concern and pain over the situation at the site, and therefore Jews should not squabble over a source of contention in Jewish law, but rather unify their opinions to defend the holy site.

"The government is to blame"

Jerusalem Councilman Aryeh King added his condemnation of the Mass prayer services on Sunday night.

Writing on Facebook, King declared: "government of Israel and members of the coalition from all the coalition parties, I accuse you of collaboration and aid in harming the holy ones of Israel, the Tomb of King David!"

King called for masses of Jews to come visit the site on Monday in a sign of protest, saying "let us return the sanctity, and by our presence and prayer on the site prevent the implementation of the current Israeli government's plan to harm the holiness of King David's Tomb."

During the pope's visit, King refused to welcome him unless he would "bring in his suitcase the treasures of the Jewish people that were stolen by his predecessors," referencing the artifacts stolen from the Second Temple by the Romans which are widely thought to be hidden in the Vatican.

It is worth noting that 41 Jews were arrested between the Saturday night and Sunday morning ahead of the pope's visit, while protesting the reported plans to let Catholics hold fixed prayers which now apparently have come to fruition.