Egypt bans official opening of synagogue

After the drinking and dancing during dedication ceremony of the newly restored synagogue in Cairo's old Jewish quarter, Egypt has cancelled the synagogue's official opening ceremony.

By Jessica Elgot, March 15, 2010
Celebrations at the synagogue's dedication ceremony

Celebrations at the synagogue's dedication ceremony

A fortnight before Pesach, Egypt has cancelled the official reopening of a restored synagogue, allegedly because of the celebrations and drinking during the synagogue’s reopening ceremony.

In Cairo’s ancient Jewish quarter, the ruined Ben Maimon synagogue has undergone a seven month restoration.

The synagogue held a dedication ceremony last week, amid a heavy security presence which cleared a 500 metre area around the shul.

The dedication ceremony included several Egyptian Jewish families, Carmen Weinstein, head of Egypt's Jewish community, Yitzhak Levanon, the newly-appointed Israeli ambassador to Egypt and the US, Canadian and French envoys.

At the rededication ceremony, Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee said: “Let us recognise that there is something of a miracle in what takes place here today—albeit an earthly one. As the Egyptian Government has embraced this project as its own, I hope it is a sign that it will embrace the history of Jews in Egypt—from the 12th Century but also the 20th Century—as its own too.”

Egyptian press reported that celebrations included signing hymns, dancing and lighting candles, as well as drinking alcohol.

But representatives of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have now cancelled the synagogue’s official unveiling to the press to be held this week, because of criticism of the dedication ceremony in the Egyptian press.

They also criticised the actions of Israel in Palestine, particularly with regards to the Aqsa compound in Jerusalem.

Council head Zahi Hawass said: "This cancellation comes after what happened during the inauguration by the Jewish community who engaged in activities considered provocative to the feelings of hundreds of millions of Muslims around world, including dancing and drinking alcohol.”

But he added that the synagogue should recognise the religious tolerance in Egypt. He said: "Muslim sanctuaries in Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities are subject to destruction and sequestration by Israel.”

Last week Culture Minister Farouk Hosni reaffirmed his commitment to restoring all 11 synagogues in Egypt, of which three have already been restored. The other two are the Ben Ezra Synagogue and partially restored Karaite Moussa Da'ari synagogue.

Last updated: 2:09pm, March 15 2010