The rabbinate of Jerusalem has issued instructions for all Christmas trees to be taken down in the city while the rabbi of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa described the symbol as “anti-Jewish.”
The outburst against Christmas trees came at the same time that Christmas trees were erected for the first time in five years in Aleppo, Syria.
A Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus takes a picture on Christmas Eve in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank City of Bethlehem.
According to a report in the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem rabbinate has called on hotels in the city not to erect Christmas trees or even host New Year’s Eve parties.
The letter, addressed to hotel managers and signed by the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem, stated:
“As the secular year ends we want to remind you that erecting a Christmas tree in a hotel contravenes halacha [Jewish law] and that therefore it is clear that one should not erect [a tree] in a hotel.
“It is also appropriate to avoid hosting parties to mark the end of the secular year. We wish to remind you that our new year occurs on the first of [the Hebrew month of] Tishrei, in an atmosphere of holiness, with the happiness of mitzva.”
The Times of Israel said that although the letter does not threaten sanctions, “it could be interpreted as a veiled threat,” in contravention of guidelines issued by the Chief Rabbinate in 2015 asserting that kashrut inspectors could not revoke the kosher certification from hotels and other establishments over photography, music or movie screenings on Shabbat, or if a Christmas tree was displayed during the holiday season.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate said that the letter “was a private initiative from the Jerusalem rabbinate. The purpose was to request that [hotels] remove Christmas decorations out of consideration for the feelings of those members of the public who observe mitzvoth.”
In a related incident, the rabbi of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa has forbidden all students from entering the student union building on the campus because a Christmas tree had been placed there.
Rabbi Elad Dokow, writing on the Srugim website, a Hebrew language news service serving the religious Zionist sector, said that the tree was “an anti-Jewish symbol” and an “attack on Jewish identity.”
He ordered students not to enter the campus or eat in the restaurants there. In a question and answer session, Rabbi Dokow said that the Christmas tree was “idolatry” and that it was tantamount to declaring that “Jerusalem does not belong to the people of Israel.”
He went on to say that it was vital that the Jews keep their “identity,” saying that “Yemenite Jews perished as a result of assimilation” and that Jewish disappearance through “assimilation” was caused by the “inability to comply with the basis of Jewish values.”
“The Jewish world faces over 4,000 years with different cultures and one victory,” he continued, adding that although “Christianity grew out of the Jewish world, pagan elements are contained within the [Christmas] holiday” and that Jews have shed too much blood to allow such a thing to continue.
He concluded by saying that Israel “is the world’s only Jewish state,” and that its purpose is to “be a light unto the nations and not to accept any other ideas.”
This outburst against Christian symbolism in Israel is aimed at Christian Palestinians. Of the total Christian population of 154,000 in Israel, about 80 percent are Palestinian.