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Israel’s Chief Rabbis Bless Crewmen Of Patriot Missiles

February 25, 1991

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel’s two chief rabbis on Monday blessed U.S. troops who came to Israel to operate U.S. Patriot anti-missile batteries, and the American commander joined the rabbis in an orange-juice toast ″to life.″

It was the first ceremony of its kind for the soldiers, whose presence and work helped to ease fears in the Jewish state, which has come under consistent bombardment during the Persian Gulf War from Iraqi Scud missiles.

The latest Scud attack came just hours before the ceremony at the chief rabbis’ headquarters. Two Scuds fell harmlessly in the desert, and the army refused to say whether Patriots were launched in retaliation.

At the ceremony, Avraham Shapira, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi, gave a blessing for peace, and Mordechai Eliyahu, the chief Sephardic rabbi, prayed that God would watch over and guard the crewmen.

″There is nothing more just and more righteous ... that this battle against Iraq and Saddam Hussein,″ Eliyahu told a contingent of six soldiers.

Eliayahu leads Jews of Sephardic, or Middle Eastern and African origin, and Shapira is chief rabbi to Jews of European descent.

The Patriot commander, Col. David Heebner of Worcester, Mass., joined the rabbis in the traditional Jewish toast, ″L’chaim″ or ″to life″ with glasses of orange juice.

″As we look at soldiers in history, soldiers who have a just cause and the blessing of the Lord prevail,″ Heebner said.

Heebner also described his men as ″part of history being made here in Israel.″ The troops are the first American soldiers to fight in Israel in defense of the Jewish state.

At least six U.S.-supplied Patriot batteries are in Israel to help defend against the Iraqi Scuds, of which 39 hae so far been launched. Germany also has sent Patriots, and a battery provided by the Netherlands was reported arriving in Israel on Monday. The United States refuses to say how many soldiers accompanied the U.S. units.

Among the American soldiers attending the session with the chief rabbis were two chaplains, Maj. Jacob Goldstein, a rabbi, and Capt. Mike Dugal, a Protestant minister.

Goldstein served as translator and later led the group to the Wailing Wall to pray. The wall, a remnant of the ancient temple, is revered as Judaism’s holiest site.

A spokesman for the chief rabbis, Eitan Aizman, said there was no significance to the timing of the ceremony.

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