Israeli minister holds Sukkot prayer service in Saudi Arabia amid warming ties


(JTA) — Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi held a Sukkot prayer service in Riyadh on Tuesday, a sign of warming ties as Israel and Saudi Arabia move toward establishing diplomatic relations.

A video and photos of the Orthodox morning service on social media showed a small group of men engaging in the fall festival’s rituals: They held a procession with the lulav and etrog, a collection of four kinds of plants used in the holiday’s prayers, and read from a Torah scroll.

“‘He had windows made facing Jerusalem, and three times a day he knelt down, prayed, and made confession to his God,'” Karhi wrote on the social media platform X on Tuesday morning, quoting from the biblical Book of Daniel. “Daniel’s windows were opened toward Jerusalem for prayer, and here in Riyadh we merited to pray with windows opened toward Jerusalem. Happy holidays.”

A photo of the Torah scroll’s velvet cover, shared by Israeli journalist Shirit Avitan Cohen, showed that it bore an embroidered inscription in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Many torah scrolls are dedicated in someone’s honor or memory, and the inscription on this scroll read, “The Jewish Congregation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In honor of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and all of their ministers and advisers.”

The Torah scroll was adorned according to Ashkenazi custom although Karhi is of Tunisian descent, perhaps indicating that the scroll had been in Saudi Arabia prior to his visit. The kingdom has no organized Jewish community, though Jews have traveled there for business.

Karhi is in Riyadh to participate in the Extraordinary Congress of the Universal Postal Union and is the second Israeli minister to attend a conference in the Saudi capital in as many weeks, following Tourism Minister Haim Katz’s participation in a United Nations tourism conference there last week. The visits come as Israel and Saudi Arabia move toward signing a U.S.-brokered agreement that would see the countries normalize relations. The agreement, which has yet to be finalized, would also include an American defense treaty with Saudi Arabia as well as Israeli concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

Recommended from JTA