Rabbis pull the plug on Christmas trees in Jerusalem

Hoteliers and tourism officials react angrily to ban on trees and New Year’s Eve parties

The season of goodwill, it appears, hasn’t reached the Holy Land.

Israeli hoteliers and tourism officials have reacted angrily after the Jerusalem rabbinate called on hotels in the city not to erect Christmas trees or host New Year's Eve parties, saying the restrictions could harm Christian tourism.

A letter, signed by the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem, stressed that the Jewish New Year was celebrated a few months ago.

“As the secular year ends we want to remind you that erecting a Christmas tree in a hotel contravenes Halacha [Jewish law] and that therefore it is clear that one should not erect a tree in a hotel”, the rabbis wrote. “It is also appropriate to avoid hosting parties to mark the end of the secular year.”


The hotel owners expressed concern that the rabbis would try to revoke the kosher license from any premises that violated the new recommendations, a move that would have major implications for any Jerusalem hotel.

"Just as you heard no opposition when the US president decided to place a menorah in the White House, a decision meant to show respect for Judaism and bring people together, it is worth thinking whether your instructions are disrespectful of our Christian guests and their sensitivities, and may, as a result, damage the hotel industry which relies for the most part on Christian tourists," Noaz Bar Nir, chief executive of Israel's hoteliers association, said in a statement by way of response.


The tourism ministry insisted that it was up to each hotel to decide whether or not to erect a Christmas tree.

"Even in non-Christian countries, including in the Persian Gulf, it is customary to display Christmas trees in hotels that host Christian guests," the tourism ministry said. "We welcome the thousands of pilgrims who will arrive in Israel. "

The rabbinical warning coincided with a letter written by the rabbi of one of Israel’s top universities warning Jewish students that it was forbidden to enter any building on campus that has a Christmas tree

Rabbi Elad Dokow from Haifa’s Technion institute of technology described the Christmas tree as an attack on Jewish identity. “It is not a Christian religious symbol but, even worse, a pagan one,” he wrote.

Israeli Arab Knesset member Youssef Jabareen called the rabbi’s words “incitement to racism” and called on the institute to dismiss the rabbi.