Israel rabbis order prayer over Eurovision 'desecration'

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israeli called on Wednesday for prayer in response to the expected desecration of the Jewish holy day of rest by the Eurovision song contest.

This year's competition is being held in Tel Aviv, and while the finals will not begin until after the Sabbath ends at sundown on Saturday, rehearsals and production preparations are expected to take place earlier in the day.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews strictly respect religious law prohibiting work on the Sabbath, the weekly day of rest from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.

Eurovision organisers were set "to desecrate our holy and glorious Sabbath publicly and glaringly, God preserve us," Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said in a handwritten missive endorsed by another senior religious leader, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein.

"They are also forcing many Sabbath-observant Jews to work on Saturday, and we can't foil their scheme, and this (desecration) is a danger to our presence here in the Holy Land," the 91-year-old spiritual leader said in the letter circulating on religious media.

"We must call out and intone and beg God to protect us," Kanievsky said, calling on followers to convene in synagogues and religious colleges at midnight on Friday "for prayers and saying atonements and asking for mercy".

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured the leaders of ultra-Orthodox political parties that Eurovision was an international event "not controlled by the government".

"The Israeli government does not seek to desecrate the Sabbath, and most of the participants in the event are from abroad and not Jewish," Netanyahu wrote in a letter to them.

Netanyahu is currently in negotiations, including with ultra-Orthodox parties, to form a new governing coalition following a general election last month.

He is facing a May 29 deadline to form a new government.

The Sabbath was said to be one of the reasons Eurovision organisers and Israeli hosts decided against holding the event in the religiously conservative city of Jerusalem.