3

To get to the tziyun of Elisha ben Shefot in Haifa, one has to enter a church. Is one allowed to do so or does one have to pray outside the walls of the church? According to most of the opinions recorded, he's buried in that location.

5
  • 3
    What do you think Elisha would want?
    – Double AA
    Jul 16, 2023 at 2:04
  • 5
    @DoubleAA Probably for OP to follow halachah ;)
    – Yehuda
    Jul 16, 2023 at 2:11
  • 4
    Generally speaking, one cannot transgress an aveirah to do a mitzvah. In this case, davening at a kever is not even a mitzvah, no matter how great the tzaddik.
    – N.T.
    Jul 16, 2023 at 4:34
  • 1
    The likelihood of Elisha being buried in Haifa does not seem high. In his later days he lived at Shomron. Though Tanach doesn't say where he was when he died, it seems more likely that he was either buried there or taken to his hometown, Avel Mecholah. It should be noted that per archeological research, the Cave of Eliyahu at Mt. Carmel, which in some sources is also associated with Elisha, was originally a Hellenistic pagan worship site, until it was appropriated by Jews and Christians ca. the 4th century CE and later by Muslims as well.
    – Harel13
    Jul 16, 2023 at 5:30
  • For that safek, I don't think there'd be an inkling of a heter.
    – Harel13
    Jul 16, 2023 at 5:32

1 Answer 1

6

This answer is within the framework of those that generally permit praying near graves:

The specific site you are referring to is the grotto beneath the altar of the church which is part of the Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa. The grotto contains a tomb, which some believe is the tomb of the prophet Elisha.

It seems that recently there has been a surge of Breslov Hasidim (especially but not only followers of R. Eliezer Berland) that have been attempting to frequent the site.

Some, like these fellows, made it all the way in (source):

Two Jewish men praying praying at site believed to be Elisha's tomb beneath church altar

Others have been accosted/assaulted for their conspicuous presence near the Stella Maris Monastery (source):

Jew assaulted outside monastery

It seems that those that are attempting to infiltrate the site, are doing so in the belief that they are emulating R. Nathan of Breslov (one of the main disciples of Nahman of Breslov). In Yeme Moharant (vol. 2, sec. 158) he records the following:

והמערה חדוש נפלא ושמחנו שם מאד. ואחר כך כשיצאנו עד שבאנו על פתח החצר של המערה, התחילו לשיר ולזמר עד שבאנו לתוך שמחה גדולה. ורקדנו שם בשמחה בשמחה בעזרת השם יתברך. משם הלכנו עד שבאנו על קבר אלישע בן שפט אשר עד הנה עמד שם בית תפלה שלהם, וזה סמוך סתר אותה הפאשי (מושל תורכי(, ועתה יכולים לילך על קברו הקדוש. ותהלה לאל היינו שם אנחנו כלנו בעזרת השם יתברך

And the is a novel wonder and we were very happy there. And then when we went out until we came to the entrance of the courtyard of the cave, we began to sing and sing until we achieved great joy. And we danced there happily with joy with God's help. From there we walked until we arrived at the grave of Elisha ben Shafat, which until here stood their "house of vanity" [play on words that could also be read as house of prayer], and it was nearby that the Pasha (high ranking Ottoman officer) blocked it, however now we can go to his holy grave. And praise be to God, we were there with the help of God, may He be blessed.

Though I can speculate (perhaps the Ottomans at the time stripped the site of its Christian iconograghy in an attempt to Islamicize the site?), I do not really know what the basis of R. Nathan's actions were. Nevertheless, that he seemed to believe it was permissible seems to be sufficient to those Hasidim attempting to now emulate him.

As has been pointed out in the comments, R. Nathan is said to have visited at a time when the church was in a state of ruin. Accordingly, the circumstances facing those seeking to visit today when there is a fully restored church on the site are different than those he faced.

R. Ben-Sion Musafi seems to sidestep the issue by responding tersely to a questioner as follows:

שאלה: רציתי לדעת בבקשה האם מותר להיכנס לקבר אלישע הנביא הממוקם בתוך מנזר נוצרי בחיפה ?תודה ותזכו למצוות. תשובה: בכלל לא בטוח ששם קברו

Q: I would like to please know if it is permitted to enter the tomb of Elisha the Prophet which is in a place that is within a Christian monostary in Haifa? Thank you, may you merit more miswoth.

A: It is not at all certain that he is buried there.

Others however are not circumspect and absolutely forbid entry to the church. R. Yishaq Rasabi writes as follows Sh'are Yishaq, Mose Shabboth Debharim, p. 5:

בימים ההם, כאשר לא היה פה שלטון, נלחמו וכבשו כל מיני אומות, מי שהצליח במלחמות, תפשו הם את המקום מאז, ובנו שם מנזר על הקבר. ויהודים רוצים להתפלל על הקבר, אבל אי אפשר, אסור להיכנס לבית של נערים, זה כמו כנסייה, עבודה זרה, זהו מקום טמא. אז אמרו, טוב, אולי נבנה איזה בית בסביבה, ונתפלל שם, סמוך לקבר לפחות. ועתה באו אלי הנ"ל להציע את סְפָקֶם אם מותר להתפלל על קברו. וכן האם מותר לפרסם הדבר, שהרי זה יכול להכשיל אחרים שיכנסו למנזר לחפש את המערה ולהתפלל שם על קברו ממש. אולי ישנם כאלה שלא יודעים שהדבר אסור, ויתפללו על הקבר ממש. ובתוך דבריהם הראו לי מתולדות רבינו האור החיים הקדוש וז"ל, רבינו ותלמידיו עלו גם לראש ההר, כדי להתפלל על קברו של נביא אלישע בן שפט. ומשנוכחו לדעת כי הנערים השתלטו על המקום, עמדו במרחק, ומיררו בבכי על חילול המקום בידי הערלים. ע"כ. ובעיקר באו בשאלתם, לאיזה צד ולאיזה כיוון ראוי להתפלל. והוא עונה על כך, הנה זה ודאי שאין שום היתר ליכנס לתוך בית תיפלתם אפילו כדי להשתטח על קברי צדיקים. אפי' אם ישנו איזה הכרח, כגון אם ישנה איזו מתיחות בין יהודים לגויים, וצריכים אולי להיכנס למקום שלהם. ואף משום איבה אסור לעשות כן, כמ"ש בספר ארעא דרבנן [סימן שנ"דו בשם תלמידי רבינו יונה, שאין להתיר איסור תורה משום איבה. מה שיהיה קצת שנאה ח"ו בין יהודים לבין גויים, זאת לא סיבה להתיר איסורי תורה. וללכת לבית תפלותם הוא איסור דאורייתא, ואכן גם בחצר אסור לעמוד. וכמו שמצינו בספר חסידים [סימן תל'"הו, כומר אחד היה חייב ליהודי כסף, וידע הכומר שלא ילך אחריו לבית תיפלות. וכשהיה היהודי הולך לתבוע ממנו את חובו, הלך הנכרי לבית התיפלות, ולא רצה היהודי לילך אחריו שם וכו'. היה כומר אחד שהיה חייב ליהודי כסף, וידע שהיהודי לא ייכנס למקום שלהם, אז מתי שהיהודי מחפש אותו בכדי שיחזיר לו את החוב, הוא היה בורח לבית התיפלה, וכך הוא מתחמק ממנו. רואים שם שהיהודי עמד בנסיון, למרות. החוב. אותו רשע ניצל את חוסר האפשרות שלו להיכנס, זה היה בשבילו כמו עיר מקלט

In those days, when there was no government here, all kinds of nations fought and conquered, whoever was successful in the wars, they occupied the place ever since, and built a monastery there on the grave. And Jews want to pray on the grave, but it's impossible, it's forbidden to enter a men’s monastery, it's like a church, idolatry, it's an unclean place. So they said, well, maybe we'll build a structure nearby, and pray there, near the grave at least. And now the above have come to me to offer an opinion on whether it is permissible to pray over his grave. And also whether it is permissible to publish the matter, since this could become a stumbling block to others who will end up entering the monastery to look for the cave and pray there over his actual grave. Perhaps there are those who do not know that this is forbidden, and will pray over the actual grave. And in the midst of their words, they showed me from the history of the holy Rabbenu, ha-Ohr ha-Haim, of blessed memory, he and his students ascended the mount, to pray over the grave of the prophet Elisha ben Shefat. When they saw that the priests had taken over the place, they stood at a distance, and wept bitterly over the desecration of the place by the heathens. And mainly they came with their question, to which side and in which direction it is appropriate to pray. And he [the Ohr ha-Haim] answers that, here it is certain that there is no permission to enter into the “House of Vanity” [i.e. the church] even to prostrate on the graves of the righteous. Even if there were some necessity, such as if there is some tension between Jews and gentiles, whence we should perhaps need to enter their place. And even where there’s concern of breeding enmity it is forbidden to do so, as is found in the Sefer Ar’aa de-Rabanan [s. 354] written in the name of Rabbi Yona's disciples, that a prohibition of the Torah should not be permitted because of enmity. Whatever minor enmity that may be aroused between Jews and Gentiles, is not a [sufficient] reason to permit Torah prohibitions. And going to their house of prayer is a Torah prohibition, and indeed it is also forbidden to stand in their courtyard. And as we see in Sefer Hasidim [S. 346] a certain priest owed money to a Jew, and the priest knew the Jew would not to follow him to their house of vanity. And when the Jew was going to claim his debt from him, the gentile went into the house of vanity, and the Jew did not want to follow him there, etc. There was a priest who owed money to a Jew, and he knew that the Jew would not enter their place, so when the Jew sought him out in order to repay the debt, he would run away to the house of vanity, and thus he avoids him. You see there that the Jew stood the test, despite the debt owed to him. That evil one took advantage of his impossibility to enter, it was for him [the priest] like a city of refuge.

Edit with additional source: At an earlier date, R. Rahamim Yosef Haim Oplatka wrote (Mas'e ha-Yerah):

למעלה בראש ההר כנסיה של נצרים ויש אומרים כי שם קבור אלישע בן שפט הנביא זיע”א ומפני רבוי צלמים אשר שם לא עלינו למעלה

At the top of the mountain there is a Christian church and some say that the prophet Elisha b. Shafat ,may his merit protect us, is buried there, however due to the abundance of crosses/icons that are there we did not ascend.

Indicating that in his estimation entering the monastery grounds is prohibited.

3
  • 1
    Reb nosson went in 1823, in between the period when it was dismantled in 1821 and started rebuilding in 1836 en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Maris_Monastery he.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… there was a Greek church there that had been raized there, before. In any case he went there when it was a churva and no iconography was there.
    – yosefkorn
    Jul 17, 2023 at 17:39
  • Rav dov kook seems to go right up to the tomb. google.com/amp/s/www.kikar.co.il/_amp/haredim-news/304213
    – yosefkorn
    Jul 17, 2023 at 17:46
  • 1
    @yosefkorn, thanks for the info about the dating. I'll edit to reflect that. As for R. Kook, I couldn't get the video to play but the article states (to my understanding) he hosted a meeting with then Minister of Religious Services (Yishaq Vaknin) to see what he could do about removing the cross from above the grotto so that those who wish to enter do not have to bow before it when entering the small space. He is clearly aware of the layout (which could be based on what others reported to him), he does not specify that he himself entered the structure. Does he state that he has in the video? Jul 18, 2023 at 23:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .