'First' Riyadh rabbi gives interview amid increased Saudi-Israel normalisation speculation

'First' Riyadh rabbi gives interview amid increased Saudi-Israel normalisation speculation
Jewish Rabbi Yaakov Herzog has spoken of a friendly atmosphere in Riyadh amid increasing speculation about a controversial normalisation deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia
3 min read
14 August, 2023
Herzog commented that Saudi Arabia has been "very welcoming and very respectful" [Getty]

Riyadh's "first" rabbi has given an interview to Israeli media as speculation about a normalisation deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel increases.

Speaking with Israeli news outlet I24, Rabbi Yaakov Israel Herzog said he wanted to expand his services in the city to help provide for the religious needs of Jewish expats working in the kingdom.

He said he would like to "build a proper center, a proper Mikvah ritual bath, a synagogue, a day school for children, and whatever a Jewish person in the kingdom would need in order to have a fulfilling Jewish life."

This would be in addition to the current services provided by Herzog, which includes leading prayers and hosting Passover.

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As part of its "Vision 2030", Saudi Arabia announced in 2014 that Jews would be able to work in the country, and according to Herzog there are now roughly 15,000 Jewish people who work in Saudi Arabia.

He said "there's a nice turnout" to the activities he organises as part of the Chabad house - a centre for Jewish community activities - that he founded in the country.

Although public displays of non-Islamic religious practice are still prohibited in Saudi Arabia, Chabad house is able to conduct its activities, with Herzog stating that when deciding how to practice Jewish customs "we basically looked at the current Saudi law book, and we tested the water."

He said that the Saudi public and authorities had been "very welcoming and very respectful."

Rabbi Herzog's interview with Israeli media comes as the US attempts to push a normalisation agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Herzog has stated his support for normalisation, posting on Twitter that "we all look towards a peace agreement between Israel and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Previous normalisation deals between Israel and Arab countries signed in 2020 were condemned by Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause. Palestinians said that they rewarded Israel while it continued to occupy the West Bank and besiege the Gaza Strip.

Inter-faith dialogue has long been an informal political bridge between Israel and Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia officially continues to condition any normalisation with Israel on the formation of a Palestinian state, but unofficial ties between the two countries have been increasing.

Most recently, Israeli firm SolarEdge Technologies Inc. agreed to a joint venture with a Saudi company to increase Saudi Arabia's solar energy infrastructure.