Holy Land Celebrates Kosher New Year

Agreement between Rabbis, Christians and the tourism industry on how to ring in Year 2000

There will be Christmas in the Holy Land, but the party will have to be quiet and behind closed doors. A compromise has been reached between Israel’s rabbis and the tourism industry on allowing Christian revelers to ring in the millennium, but quietly.

The agreement allows Christmas trees, but behind closed doors. Christians can have parties, but they have to be in closed-off hotel halls. Rabbis say the celebrations have to be toned down to preserve a Jewish character in Israel.

Tourism industry officials launched an ad campaign beckoning pilgrims to celebrate Jesus’ yep two-hundredth birthday in the "The Place Where It All Began". However, the strict rules at hotels and throughout the Holy Land began causing problems. In fact, one group of 3,000 Americans canceled their trip after they heard their parties would have to take place on the sly. Israel usually attracts 2 million tourists a year and was hoping to attract 4 million this year. The strict rules have now lowered the expectations for tourism in the year 2000 to around 3 million.

Most of the debate about the New Year celebration centered on the preparation of food. Most municipal rabbinates keep their supervision of kashrut, the preparation of food according to Jewish law confined to the kitchen, but a few said any in-house violation of Jewish tradition taints the food operation. These meant end-of-millennium plans for Christmas and New Year's Eve were out of the question.

Hotels are not required to have a kashrut certificate to operate but most do. Without the certificate a hotel would lose a lot of catering business for Jewish celebrations, weddings, bar mitzvahs and circumcision rituals that bring a lot of money to the area hotels.

The idea of having no bacon for breakfast was not a problem for most tourists but he ban on millennium festivities forced hotels to choose between two lucrative markets and most opted to go kosher. This left many of the leading travel agents with no place to send their clients and they appealed to the powerful finance committee of Israel’s parliament. That’s when the agreement was finally reached to allow some Christmas and New Year celebrations but behind closed doors.

For years New Year’s Eve day was a time of violence in some Christian comminutes. December 31 is also the saint’s day of Sylvester I, the fourth-century pope who drafted far-reaching anti-Jewish rulings. Until recently, some Christian communities marked the day with anti-Semitic violence. With so much tension possible and bad publicity on top of it, the rabbis decided to reach a compromise on the celebration of New Year.

The tourism industry seems pleased with the plan. They say their job now is to make sure their clients have a great experience on New Year’s Eve.

DATE: 11/4/99

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