A meeting last month between the Dean of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, and Jonathan Pollard in the latter’s US Federal prison cell may have consequences for Jewish – and Arab - construction in eastern Jerusalem.

Rabbi Shapira visited Pollard in his jail cell five weeks ago, together with Rabbi Pesach Lerner, who is Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel. At one point, when Rabbi Shapira asked him what specifically he can do for Pollard back in Israel, Pollard answered, “I am very concerned for Beit Yehonatan. It needs to be looked after and made sure that not only is it not destroyed or evacuated, but that it becomes a center of Torah and prayer.”

Rabbi Shapira later spoke with Jerusalem settlement veterans from the Ateret Cohanim Jerusalem Settlement Foundation and expressed willingness to give classes there, and even possibly bring students there for the purpose.

Rabbi Shapira took over the helm of the Jerusalem yeshiva founded by the saintly Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook in late 2007, after the passing of his father, the renowned late Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira.

Targeted From the Left

Beit Yehonatan is a Jewish-owned building in Jerusalem "Yemenite Village" neighborhood, named in honor of Jonathan Pollard. It has been declared illegal, largely because it exceeds the permitted height limit. The legal counsel of the Jerusalem Municipality, Attorney Yossi Havilio, has targeted the building, and demands that it be razed.

Even left-wing Meretz party members on the municipality council feel that Havilio is going too far, however. Dr. Meir Margalit of Meretz, as well as others much further to the right of him, say that there are many dozens of illegal Arab structures in the area, and that it is folly to pursue just one Jewish building and ignore the Arab ones.

The Yemenite Village, located below and just to the southeast of the Temple Mount, was owned by and home to many Jewish families, mostly from Yemen, from the 1880's until 1938. Following a period of Arab riots, pogroms and looting, in 1938 the British evacuated the last 30 families from the neighborhood. 

"The British gave assurances that the 'Jewish refugees' would shortly return," according to Daniel Lurie, Executive Director of the Ateret Cohanim Jerusalem Settlement Foundation, "but of course, this never happened"- until April 2004, when several Jewish families moved back in. The building has been occupied ever since.

Michael Wasserteil, who took part in the visit as translator for Rabbi Shapira, related afterwards that though Pollard is not allowed internet access in jail, he reads Arutz-7/Israel National News articles, among other reports, and is very well informed on Israeli current events. He further said that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writes to Pollard weekly. The visit ended both with words of Torah, as Pollard requested, and song and dance, as Rabbi Shapira suggested.

Pollard's Request: More Steam

“Mayor Barkat wants to makes sure that Beit Yehonatan is not touched,” Lurie told Israel National News. “He wants to ‘kosher’ the whole area, including the Arab structures, in the knowledge that the current situation cannot continue. He has taken separate legal counsel on this matter, because he realizes that Havilio is not looking at the big picture but rather honing in on only one thing.”

It is assumed that a four-floor limit will be placed on all structures in the area – leaving the top 1.5 floors of Beit Yehonatan in limbo. “They are currently not populated in any event,” Lurie said, “but we don’t know if they will have to be sealed up, or possibly taken apart brick by brick. We will see... But the main thing is to remove the threat hovering against the entire building – and Pollard’s request has given this goal extra steam power.”

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