Vatican Versus Religious Jews: Tunnel Wars on Mount Zion

December 27, 2018

4 min read

Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, informed Breaking Israel News of a truly disturbing situation. Rabbi Berger claims that the Catholic Church constructed a tunnel underneath King David’s Tomb, ignoring the Jewish religious claim to the site and endangering artifacts and catacombs dating back to Biblical times.

“Apparently the construction of the tunnel was completed about 10 years ago,” Rabbi Berger told Breaking Israel News. “But word of its existence only recently leaked out.”

The tunnel is believed to be about 1,970 feet long and 5 feet wide. It was allegedly built by the Catholic authorities in Jerusalem as an underground passage from the main building of the Dormition Abbey to the residences of the clergy in the Beit Yosef building.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) which should have supervised the digging in the sensitive area denied the existence of the tunnel. The IAA told Israel National News that “the Antiquities Authority’s representatives supervise the activity at the Tomb of David every day, an important site with a rich and fascinating history. The claims presented in the article do not deal with archaeology, but with an absurd accumulation of inventions.”

Rabbi Berger is not satisfied with the IAA response.

“If the tunnel exists, it would have required permits from several government offices,” he exclaimed. “We don’t know what they took away when they dug the tunnel. We don’t even know why they dug it. Why would they need to spend so much money to dig a tunnel when they could just walk on the street for three minutes? It is very strange that they would dig a tunnel and very strange that no one wants to talk about it.”

“Jews would never dare dig a tunnel under Mount Zion,” Rabbi Berger argued. “How could the Church dare do such a thing?”

Much of the controversy focuses on the second floor of the building marking King David’s Tomb. Known as the Cenacle, or the Upper Room, Christians believe it to be the site of Jesus’ Last Supper. The site is also holy to Jews as the traditional entrance to the Tomb of King David. Much of the early history of the building is unknown, however, it is believed that it was originally a synagogue that was later used by the first Jewish followers of Jesus as a House of Prayer.

The building was used as a church until 1552 when the Ottomans took it over, prohibiting Christians from praying there and turning the site into a mosque. A minaret still stands on the roof. Christians were not allowed to visit the building until 1948 when Israel conquered that section of Jerusalem. The Israeli government claims the site as part of Jerusalem but the Vatican claims ownership of the building, alleging that Franciscan friars purchased it in the 14th Century.

It is currently not used as a church, a situation the Vatican is trying to change. In March 2000, Pope John Paul II requested and received special permission from the Israeli government to hold a mass on the second floor of the building. Another mass was held at the location by Pope Francis in 2014. This was problematic for religious Jews since, according to Jewish law, Jews are prohibited from praying in buildings used for Christian prayer. The room is open to all but is kept devoid of religious symbols. Mass is held in the room three times a year.

The official position of the Israeli government is that it will not give up sovereignty over any Jewish holy sites. However, in 2009, it was reported in Haaretz that after meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, then-President of Israel Shimon Peres began to exert pressure within the government to surrender control of six holy sites to the Vatican including the Cenacle.

Harry Moskoff, Award Winning Film Producer and Writer of The ARK Report, is intimately familiar with the archaeological sites on Mount Zion. He confirmed the existence of the ancient tunnels and also confirmed that the Church had dug a new tunnel as well. On a recent visit to the site, Moskoff noted that debris had been piled on top of a metal cover to an entrance to one of the ancient tunnels in an attempt to obscure it.

“Even though it is not well-hidden, few people know what this cover conceals,” Moskoff told Breaking Israel News. He became aware of the tunnels’ existence and the controversy surrounding them when researching his book. “Despite its Biblical and religious significance, so much of Mount Zion, including King David’s Tomb, is intentionally kept obscure. This should be a protected site and a huge tourist attraction. There should be archaeologists crawling over the site day and night.”

“This lack of attention indicates to me that something odd is going on, some level of official suppression,” Moskoff said. Moskoff noted that the official strategy of hiding the existence of a tunnel on Mount Zion is nothing new.

“There are several tunnels on Mount Zion that are ancient,” Moskoff said. “They have enormous religious and archaeological significance but no one is allowed near them. The Israeli authorities deny their existence.”

Moskoff believed that it was justifiable for the government to be circumspect regarding such a religiously controversial site.

“People can go crazy when it comes to things having to do with Messiah and King David,” Moskoff said. “Keeping it secret prevents trouble and helps preserve the site from vandals. The strategy of hiding this tunnel worked for many years, preventing a dispute between the Vatican and the Israeli government.”

Israeli refusal to turn over the site to the Vatican is not only motivated by a desire to appease Orthodox Jews. Any change to the status quo of any holy site in the Old City will undoubtedly anger the Muslim religious authority and the Palestinian Authority.

“Now that people know about it, the status quo has changed. The Church changed it and something needs to be done,” Moskoff said. “The rabbis are trying to prevent the situation in which the Vatican has access to Jewish holy sites that Jews do not have access to.”

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