Shlomo Karhi, the minister of communications from Israel, took part in a morning prayer session in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, which included a Torah scroll dedicated to King Salman bin Abdulaziz, as both nations move closer to normalising relations.
Three Jews who were in Riyadh but were not a member of Karhi’s delegation attended the service, which had a quorum, or minyan, of at least 10 men, and was held in Karhi’s hotel.
Participants were seen holding an etrog and clutching palm, myrtle, and willow branches as part of a unique ritual for the Sukkot holiday in photos supplied by Karhi’s office.
They also read from a small Torah scroll, provided by a “local Jew,” according to Karhi’s spokesman.
The scroll was wrapped in a felt cover, with stitching in English, Hebrew and Arabic reading “The Jewish Congregation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
In Hebrew, it was also devoted to King Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), and all their ministers and advisers.”
Orthodox Jew Karhi arrived in the Sunni country on Monday night to lead an Israeli delegation to the Extraordinary Congress of the Universal Postal Union in 2023.
Less than a week had passed since Haim Katz, a Likud colleague, became the first Israeli minister to visit, and the minister, who was accompanied by David Bitan, chairman of the Knesset Economy Committee, made the journey.
The trips take place as Israel and Saudi Arabia move closer to a deal to normalise relations in a deal mediated by the US that, if it is approved, would signal a historic advancement for Israel’s standing in the Middle East.
“Just as the windows in the house of Daniel were opened facing Jerusalem, so too in Riyadh we were able to pray with windows open facing Jerusalem,” said Karhi in a statement, referring to the biblical character exiled to Babylon.
According to Karhi’s office, the delegation led by him and Bitan consists of a total of 14 people, including delegates from the Communications Ministry, the Postal Service, and the Foreign Ministry.
Karhi will deliver a speech at the conference that will focus on “progress and a bridge to peace,” his spokesman told The Times of Israel.
According to his office, he will also meet with Michael Ratney, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as well as other world leaders including the communications minister of Turkey.
According to Karhi’s office, he also got a request to visit Mohammed Saud, a well-known admirer of Israel in Riyadh.
Although there isn’t a recognised Jewish community in Saudi Arabia, the country is reported to be home to a handful of Jewish businesses.
“We’re here during the Sukkot holiday, at an international conference. We’ll meet with representatives from around the world, and will bring the peace between the State of Israel and Saudi Arabia closer,” Karhi said in a video statement after landing in Riyadh.
“Everything starts with small steps, so this is the beginning, and we’ll see in the future how things develop for the benefit of the State of Israel and peace in the Middle East,” Bitan said.
Katz, Bitan, and Karhi are all members of Netanyahu’s Likud party, which is in power.
The ceremony was held precisely one week after Katz, who had been to Saudi Arabia as the first minister-led team, touched down there for a United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference.
Nine employees from Israel travelled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month to attend the UNESCO World Heritage Committee conference as observers.
According to an Israeli official, the trip was led by the director of Israel’s Antiquities Authority and included ambassadors.
The trips take place as US President Joe Biden’s administration actively engages Riyadh and Jerusalem in an effort to mediate a settlement for the two nations to resume diplomatic relations.
Saudi Arabia is also pushing the US for a big arms transaction, a mutual defence agreement, and Israeli concessions to the Palestinians as part of the framework.
A “basic framework” for an agreement has been achieved, according to John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
Kirby cautioned, however, that the “complex” arrangement would necessitate “compromise” from all parties.
Speaking last month at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “on the cusp” of a historic deal with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, told Fox News that “every day we get closer” to his country normalising ties with Israel while clarifying that the Palestinian issue is still a “very important” component of the process and declaring that Saudi Arabia will have to obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran does.