A Board of Deputies plan for synagogues to twin with mosques in order to improve Muslim-Jewish relations has been attacked by a senior Orthodox rabbi as contrary to Jewish law.
Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation of Beth Din, wrote to communities under its aegis last Friday to say they should not take part “on religious grounds”.
The initiative was among a number discussed by Jewish interfaith organisations at a special meeting at the Board last week to discuss Jewish-Muslim relations.
Dayan Lichtenstein told Federation rabbis that he had also written to the Board asking them to abandon the twinning idea.
“While their goal is admirable,” he wrote, “I am disturbed about their use of a shul to pair with a community of a different religion and quite distressed about the lack of understanding of what a shul is all about.”
A synagogue is “not just a building to be used for communal and social functions but a Mokom Kadosh [holy place] and Mokom Tefillah [place of prayer]…Their plan is a desecration and denigration of the sanctity of a shul and as such is forbidden, according to halachah.”
Speaking from France, Dayan Lichtenstein stressed that he was not against building good relations and that he had contact with Muslim organisations, but that twinning a synagogue with another faith’s house of worship was wrong.
“We have plenty of community centres in this community,” he said. “They are what should be used.”
But Rabbi Naftali Brawer, who advises Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks on Muslim-Jewish affairs, took a different line. “Any initiative that brings greater understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities is to be applauded,” he said.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies commented: “Dayan Lichtenstein recognises, like so many in our community, the need for dialogue with our neighbours of different faiths, but it is quite right that such engagement should take a form with which individual communities are comfortable.”
He added: “The nature of the interaction, whether it is between a Jewish school or a synagogue and a school or community of a different faith, can only work if all of those participating can do so in a way that is neither intimidating nor challenging to their fundamental beliefs. The suggestion to open dialogue with Muslim communities is at a very formative stage, but any links that do take place in the future must be on those terms and at the discretion of individual communities.”