- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

JERUSALEM — It was a bad weekend for two senior clergymen in Jerusalem: The Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I, was rejected by two-thirds of his synod while the chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, saw family members implicated in the abduction and beating of his daughter’s suitor.

Patriarch Irineos’ problems stem from his reported sale of church property in Jerusalem’s Old City to Jewish investors. Although the church’s senior clergymen in the region are all Greeks, the laymen are almost all Palestinian Arabs.

The church is one of the largest landowners in Jerusalem, and its Arab members view with extreme gravity the sale of land to Jews, which could augment Israel’s claims to the disputed Old City.

Within its walls lie the Holy Land’s holiest sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Apart from the political aspect, clergymen expressed concern about the fiscal propriety of such sales.

Two-thirds of the 38-member synod signed a letter Friday calling for Patriarch Irineos’ ouster. When the patriarch left his compound Friday, his opponents locked the gates behind him.

“We have ceased accepting Irineos as the Greek Orthodox patriarch,” said the chief secretary of the patriarchate, Aristarchos.

“There has not been transparency on the part of the patriarchate’s management,” he said, “mainly in financial matters.”

Mr. Amar’s problems are not directly connected to his role as chief Sephardic rabbi.

With modernity penetrating the hitherto secluded world of the ultra-Orthodox, the rabbi’s 18-year-old daughter, Ayala, met a 17-year-old youth on an Internet chat room three months ago. The two subsequently met several times “for no more than talk,” according to those involved.

Although the youth is ultra-Orthodox, the family objected strenuously to the relationship. In the ultra-Orthodox world, marriages are arranged between families and not left to frivolous young people.

Enter Mr. Amar’s son Meir, 31, the family’s “black sheep” who abandoned religion at age 13, has a criminal record and reportedly lived for a while among the Bedouin.

Although the family cut off relations with him long ago, the rabbi’s wife, Mazal, reportedly called upon him to warn off the unwanted suitor.

According to police, Meir Amar recruited two Arab friends and with Ayala drove to the young man’s house, where she called on him to come out. The men purportedly forced him into the car and drove him to an Arab town where he was beaten much of the night and the side locks of his hair — religious symbols — were cut off.

Mr. Amar is abroad and is to return tomorrow. He issued a statement expressing regret at the harm done the young man. Aides said he was not involved in the incident.

Police say charges will be brought against the rabbi’s wife, son and daughter. At present, police plan only to question the rabbi.

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