Brawl between Orthodox archbishop, Jewish student highlights problems
By Judith Sudilovsky
JERUSALEM-CONFRONTATIONS Oct-12-2004 (790 words) xxxi
Catholic News Service
JERUSALEM (CNS) — The recent brawl between an Armenian Orthodox bishop
and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth has spotlighted the issue of such
religious confrontations, which some observers say are increasing.
The incident occurred Oct. 10 when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish student
spat at a cross carried by Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Nourhan
Manougian during a procession marking the exaltation of the holy
cross in Jerusalem’s Old City. The archbishop’s ceremonial medallion,
which has been in use since the 17th century, was broken during the
ensuing brawl, in which he slapped the student.
The archbishop and the student were questioned by the police, and
the student was arrested.
The Ha’aretz newspaper said religious Jews often spit on the ground
when they see the cross. The newspaper quoted the archbishop as saying
he had grown accustomed to people turning around and spitting when he
walked past, but to have a cross spit at during a religious procession
was a “humiliation we are not prepared to accept.”
“You meet a fanatic segment of Jews who have their own ideas;
sometimes when they see Christian clergy walking on the Via Dolorosa
with the cross, some fanatics (may say something or spit) but we
can’t generalize. It is not the sort of thing you see in general,”
said Father Shawki Baterian, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of
Jerusalem. “It may happen to individual priests sometimes, but they
don’t (lodge) complaints or pay attention to it.”
He said Archbishop Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem has never been insulted
or abused in such a manner.
Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council
in Israel, said there have been increasing reports of such incidents.
“There is a lack of education in a very certain quarter of Jewish life,
but it is not sweeping Israeli society. It tends to be in the areas of
Jerusalem where (Christian clergy) come in contact with ultra-Orthodox
(Jews),” he said. “It is not an epidemic, but it is increasing.”
The problem is most intense in the Old City, he said, recalling
an incident when he accompanied a visiting Catholic cardinal to
the Western Wall, and an Orthodox Jewish youth shouted disparaging
remarks at the religious leader. The cardinal ignored the shouting,
and his visit continued as planned.
“There needs to be more education and statements by some leading
figures in the Orthodox (Jewish) world in Israel,” Rabbi Kronish said.
“But it is hard to educate people who are not open to dialogue. More
awareness that this is a city of three faiths would be helpful.”
The Armenian and Syrian Orthodox churches are generally the ones facing
the brunt of such antagonism because their communities are located
closer to areas where Orthodox Jews go and so have more chances of
contact, said Daniel Rossing, former adviser on Christian affairs for
the Religious Affairs Ministry and director of the Jerusalem Center
for Christian-Jewish Dialogue.
“You don’t hear of a lot of incidents near the Latin Patriarchate
area or near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, because those are not
areas where in general Jews are passing, (but) the Armenian Quarter
is along a major thoroughfare, with a human traffic flow of Jews
going to the Jewish Quarter and to the Western Wall,” Rossing said.
In general, he said, such attacks are perpetrated by younger male
members of the Orthodox Jewish community.
In its lead editorial, Ha’aretz called the incidents “Jerusalem’s
disgrace” and charged the police and Interior Ministry with not doing
enough to prevent such attacks.
“It turns out that for some time the Christians in Jerusalem have been
suffering from … provocations by wild young people. The provocations
… have become an ugly routine in recent years, fitting right in with
the increasingly extremist political atmosphere,” the newspaper said.
It called on the city to “take firm action” against the offending
“It is intolerable that Christian citizens of Jerusalem suffer from
the shameful spitting at or near a crucifix,” the paper said.
Many Orthodox Jews see the cross as a symbol of the violence
perpetrated on Jewish communities by Christians over the centuries.
Rossing said his center is planning to ask Christian churches to
report all such incidents so it can build a solid statistical base
with which to approach leading rabbinical figures to ask for their
assistance in curbing the abuse.
Jerusalem officials did not return a Catholic News Service request
for comment, but Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said
police have had only two complaints from Christians in the past
year. In both cases, the culprits were caught and punished, he said,
adding that police deploy a large number of patrols and employ special
technology in the Old City to try to maintain order.