Rabbis: Don't raze Gaza synagogues
Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzgar invited to attend government session, set to call on ministers to leave Gush Katif synagogues intact. Officials at PM's Office: Synagogues likely to be destroyed or desecrated. Ministers also expected to OK Egyptian deployment along Gaza border
The rabbis have raised a last-minute demand, calling on the government to refrain from demolishing the synagogues and ask the Palestinian Authority to safeguard them under international monitoring.
Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon also invited IDF Chief Rabbi Yisrael Weiss to the government session so he can brief the ministers regarding what is expected to happen to the synagogues should they not be razed.
At this time, the matter is not expected to be brought up for a vote. Political sources estimated the demand to leave the synagogues intact is politically motivated and has been made in order to criticize the government should the synagogues be desecrated by the Palestinians.
"There's obviously a danger that should the synagogues remain they will be desecrated, and may even be turned into mosques," sources in Jerusalem said.
Meanwhile, officials at the Prime Minister's Office said: "We wonder what happened today that wasn't there a year and two months ago. After all, there has been nothing new since the first government decision on the matter."
"There is a likelihood the synagogues will be destroyed or desecrated, and therefore it is proper for ministers to hear the assessment of the IDF's chief rabbi regarding the possible fate of those synagogues."
'Severe implications for synagogues abroad'
The decision to invite the chief rabbis to attend Sunday's government session followed an opinion offered by Rabbi Amar, and also backed by leading rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Ovadia Yosef, which called to leave the Gaza synagogues intact. Razing the synagogues would serve as a precedent for demolishing synagogues in abandoned Jewish communities overseas, the rabbis said.
In a letter on the matter, the rabbis wrote: "The razing of synagogues has severe implications regarding thousands of synagogues across the world…the Chief Rabbinic Council calls on the government of Israel to stop the plan to raze synagogues…and safeguard them at least the way it does with other religions."
Last week, the High Court of Justice ruled that the State is allowed to demolish the synagogues. The decision was based on a ruling by Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, who said that since the synagogues have lost their holiness there is no point leaving them intact for fear they would be vandalized by Palestinians.
Rabbi Metzger's close associated said he issued his ruling only after being informed the matter was under the exclusive authority of IDF Chief Rabbi Weiss. Metzger's ruling came after officials at the Prime Minister's Office promised that a new synagogue will be built in place of every one that is destroyed.
However, the chief rabbi has since changed his position, mostly because of scathing criticism leveled at him in the wake of his ruling.
Ministers to discuss Philadelphi route deal
Also on Sunday, ministers are scheduled to discuss the agreement struck with Egypt to deploy 750 Egyptian border guard troops along Gaza's Philadelphi route. Sources at the Prime Minister's Office said Sunday's discussion would not be about the IDF's departure from the route, but rather, the deployment of the Egyptian forces there in a bid to prevent weapon smuggling.
Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) has already announced he will back the agreement, despite his objection to the Gaza pullout.
"Now, after the Gaza Strip had been evacuated, I see no reason to leave IDF soldiers as a barrier between Egypt and the Palestinians," he said, and added Israel should shift to a policy of harsh deterrence in regards to any attack on Israelis or Israeli territory.
However, Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) announced she would oppose the deal, as it "contradicts the peace deal with Egypt and the principle of the demilitarization of the Sinai."
Ilan Marciano contributed to the story