Jews in Hampstead Garden Suburb have criticised a decision by a local residents’ association to hold a hustings in a church, with prominent rabbis advising against their attendance.
Politicians from five parties will attend the hustings on 21 April event which will take place in the prayer room at Lutyens-designed Free Church.
The building, which together with St Jude-on-the-Hill is one of two large churches in the area, was chosen for its capacity, but a prominent London-based orthodox rabbi, who asked not to be named, expressed his “surprise” at the choice of venue.
“They could have put it somewhere else,” he said. “Jews should not go into churches, particularly areas for prayer where Christian religious symbols, like Jesus on a cross, are present. This form of idolatory is forbidden in Judaism.”
The rabbi said that Jewish-Christian relations were a secondary problem which “can cause emotional upset to Jews”. He said this was “why I recommend that they don’t go to such places”.
Jonathan Seres of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association (HGSRA), himself Jewish, apologised for any inconvenience and acknowledged “problems for some”, but said the context was important.
“Where the church is used as a large public space and not for a religious service nor for a tourist view, many Jews would feel comfortable,” he said. “When St Jude’s is used for the Proms concerts, traditional Jews attend.”
However William Comet, a Jewish resident who was told not to attend, said: “It’s bonkers. They could have held it at Kinloss, or at the hotel, or even the non-prayer church hall round the corner. It was irritating. They had options.”