In a letter faxed to hoteliers in Jerusalem, two of the city's chief rabbis warned against displaying Christmas trees on their premises.
The Israeli daily said the letter could be interpreted as a “veiled threat” to hoteliers who risk losing their kosher licenses. This flies in the face of recent developments, including a March 2015 ruling by Israel's Chief Rabbinate that lifted a ban on Christmas trees in hotels and tied the criteria for kosher certification more closely to the preparation of food.
Christmas trees and other symbols of non-Jewish traditions rankle some Israelis; the country's ultra-Orthodox rabbis are known to criticize their display. In a separate incident reported by Israeli media, a rabbi at Technion Institute of Technology in the city of Haifa warned students against entering the student union building because of a Christmas tree there, arguing that the tree was “not a Christian religious symbol, but even worse, a pagan one.”
Still, the Arab Christian population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem celebrate the holiday with gusto — not least in Bethlehem — as do Christian communities in cities such as Haifa and Nazareth. Israeli officials were at pains to express their support for Christmas traditions, while remaining sensitive to ultra-Orthodox Jewish sentiment, particularly in Jerusalem, a holy city contested by the three Abrahamic faiths.
“As a proud Jew, I do not take part in idolatrous events, and I will not attend any ceremony. I was even invited to a reception for the Pope and I didn't come. I ask my rabbis and they tell me how to act,” Jerusalem's deputy mayor, Dov Kalmanovitz, told Arutz Sheva newspaper this week. But he endorsed state efforts to distribute trees to Christian worshipers and institutions: “However, I have no problem with giving out Christmas trees to private individuals.”
A statement from the Israeli tourism ministry pointed to the prevalence of Christmas trees even in predominantly Muslim countries: “Even in non-Christian countries including the Persian Gulf states it is the custom to place a Christmas tree in hotels where Christians are residing. We welcome the thousands of pilgrims who will be arriving in Israel at this time.”
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