Orthodox Suspected in Jerusalem Conservative Synagogue, Church Attacks

Incidents are the latest in Israel's escalating squabbles between Orthodox Jews and the rest of the nation

JERUSALEM, June 26 (RNS)--Two recent attacks on a Conservative Jewish synagogueand on a Messianic Jewish (Christian) church in Jerusalem have stirredconcerns over a new wave of sectarian violence aimed at non-OrthodoxJewish groups in Israel.

Arsonists threw Molotov cocktails into a Conservative synagogue inthe Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot on Saturday evening, setting fire to the building's interior and causing thousands of dollars of damage, synagogue officials said. On Sunday, vandals also reportedly stole a Bible scroll from a Messianic Jewish congregation known as Netiv-Ya in Jerusalem's downtown area.

Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of Israel's Masoreti (Conservative Judaism)Movement, said police were investigating the possibility that anextremist Orthodox group carried out the arson attack.

An eyewitness reportedly saw three men wearing Orthodox skullcaps runningfrom the Ramot synagogue site Saturday night just after the arsonattempt, Bandel said. Police were still investigating the incident, aswell as the subsequent theft from the Messianic Jewish congregation.

Messanic Jews are Jews who accept Jesus as the messiah while still following some Jewish traditions and liturgical forms. Most mainstream Jews--Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike--consider Messianic Jews to be converts to Christianity.

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Bandel blamed Israeli government and religious officials for turninga blind eye to previous similar acts of violence, saying that such anattitude encouraged extremism.

"Exactly three weeks ago, someone tried to burn up the same Ramotsynagogue by setting fire to the front door," Bandel said. "When thathappened, we turned to [Jerusalem] Mayor Ehud Olmert, to Israel's chief rabbis, and to the government authorities asking them to vehemently denounce theact. But we didn't get a response.

"It's tragic that in the Jewish state, we are witnessing the burningof synagogues," added Bandel. "I'm sure that if something like this hadhappened abroad, it would have been loudly denounced, but when thingshappen in Jerusalem, there is silence. People failed to read the writingon the wall.

"We as a movement denounce all such attacks, including the recentattack on the Messianic Jewish congregation, with which we have seriousdisagreements. Period."

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Elaine Ruth Fletcher
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