Prime Minister Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat is heading a group of senior Israeli officials in the United Arab Emirates to draft the agreement marking open relations between Israel and the Gulf state. There are two synagogues in the UAE, both located in Dubai, so when Ben-Shabbat, who has been religious his entire life, so a socially-distanced Minyan (prayer quorum of ten) was arranged at his hotel in Abu Dhabi. Members of the Abu Dhabi Jewish community were also in attendance. There are currently bout 150 families to 3,000 Jews who live and worship freely in the UAE.
As per Jewish custom in the month of Elul preceding the holy day of Rosh Hashannah, blasts were sounded from a shofar (ram’s horn).
On the podium rested a Torah scroll provided by the heads of the UAE Jewish community with its velvet cover embroidered in Arabic noting “This Torah is dedicated to the honor of His Excellency / Muhammad Ali Al-Abbar who inspired his friends and his country and his generation through his vision and personality”. Next to the scroll was a special prayer for the government and military of the UAE which was presented to Ben-Shabat as a gift. Though the Torah is normally only read on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat, after the prayer service was complete, Ben-Shabbat opened one of the scrolls and recited a brief passage from the weekly portion, Ki Tavo.
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabat joining shacharit morning prayer services in Abu Dhabi, UAE pic.twitter.com/z9lnzAkvy1
— Raphael Ahren (@RaphaelAhren) September 1, 2020
The US delegation to the meeting included Jared Kusher and Avi Berkowitz, though they did not attend the prayer session.
Rabbi Yehudah Glick, a former Likud Knesset Member and head of the Shalom Jerusalem Foundation, noted semi-ironically, “It is remarkable that Jews are allowed to gather in communal prayer in Abu Dhabi, which is not always the case here in Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus.”
“Though it is wonderful that the shofar is being blown in the UAE, I am much more concerned about what is happening in the Holy Land, more specifically, in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount,” Rabbi Glick said on a serious note. “Yes, we live in amazing times when a message of peace is going out from Israel and this region to the world but even now when our former enemies are listening to the shofar being blown, the glorious sound of the shofar that once filled the Temple Mount with joy is forbidden by our own government.”
Rabbi Glick recently petitioned the Israeli government to allow the Shofar to be blown on the Temple Mount for the holy day of Rosh Hashannah. Unfortunately, this petition was rejected despite religious freedom on the site being specifically mandated by Trump’s peace plan.
“People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors,’ the text of Trump’s plan reads.
The agreement between Israel and the UAE also ensures religious freedom for Jews on the Temple Mount.
“As set forth in the Vision for Peace, all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque (the silver-domed mosque at the southern end of the Temple Mount Compound), and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths,” the agreement reads.
Rabbi Glick notes that unlike blowing the shofar in the UAE, doing so on the Temple Mount will be the fulfillment of prophecy.
“Blowing shofar on the Temple Mount will announce freedom for the world, a time when all nations will acknowledge Hashem as the one true king,” Rabbi Glick said. “We are, thank God, passed the time when we had to smuggle a shofar to the Kotel (Western Wall) but we are still forbidden from blowing the shofar at our holiest site. When that happens, that will really excite me.”