Israeli Synagogues to Be Guarded at Passover

Israel's rabbis have agreed to allow several worshippers to be armed in every synagogue during upcoming holidays, making an exception to Jewish laws because of fears of terror attacks, officials said Tuesday.

The Religious Affairs ministry agreed to a request by security officials that four people in each synagogue be given weapons and cell phones. Orthodox Jews are banned from even touching such items on holidays and the Sabbath, except in emergencies.

"Synagogues are not normally the place for guns and cellular phones, but these are special arrangements for this holiday because of the situation," ministry spokesman Uri Revach said.

The Passover holiday begins on Wednesday, March 27 and lasts for a week. The first and last days of the holiday and the Sabbath are days when the strict Orthodox restrictions apply.

In a statement to be circulated to all synagogues in the country, the ministry instructs congregations to appoint at least four worshippers as armed guards and to place several cellular phones within reach. The phones would be turned off unless they are needed in an emergency.

The guards would report to a coordinator, to prevent armed worshippers from shooting at each other during an attack, the statement said.

Dozens of Israelis have been killed and hundreds injured in Palestinian attacks, including suicide bombings, during nearly 18 months of violence.

The ministry in its statement said synagogues could be targets of terror attacks. It also points out that an attacker could be disguised as an Ultra-Orthodox Jew, policeman or soldier. Revach noted that has happened in the past.

"The ministry regrets it has had to make this request, but if something happens, people have to be prepared," the spokesman said.