By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) – Books, filled with prayers for peace, splattered with blood. Sacred vestments shredded by bullets and knives. Lifeless bodies in the sanctuary.
The rabbis had gathered to ask God to bestow blessings upon their troubled land. Their prayers were interrupted by two men wielding butcher knives and a gun.
An Israeli police officer and four rabbis were killed, including an American whose family is considered "rabbinic royalty."
Combined with the site of the slaughter - a synagogue in West Jerusalem - the targeting of rabbis struck at the soul of Jews around the world, several Jewish leaders said Tuesday.
CNN's Poppy Harlow interviews religious leaders from Christianity, Islam and Judaism about the role of religion in the Mideast conflict.
Opinion by Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) – This past Sunday, six Israelis were arrested for the murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy. Israeli officials admitted the likelihood—already acknowledged by many—that this killing was carried out in revenge for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Both sides have stepped up their aggression in the past few days, with rocket launches from Gaza into Israel and Israeli airstrikes against Gaza.
It’s a familiar cycle: attack for attack, murder for murder. Such patterns are familiar from conflicts across the world, but they have a special resonance in the Holy Land.
After all, it was from Israel, nearly 3,000 years ago, that this famous concept spread.
The Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible says, “The penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
(CNN) - So, a rabbi, a sheikh and a pope travel to the Holy Land…
It might sound like the start of a trite joke, but it’s actually the entourage for one of the most highly anticipated papal trips in recent history.
As Pope Francis heads to Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem this weekend, he’s bringing along two old friends from Argentina: Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the Pope, and Sheikh Omar Abboud, who leads Argentina’s Muslim community.
The Vatican says it’s the first time that a pope’s official entourage has included interfaith leaders.
In a region roiled by competing religious and political visions, Francis’ chosen companions communicate an unmistakable message, church officials said.
“It’s highly symbolic, of course,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.
“But it also sends a pragmatic message to Muslims, Christians and Jews that it’s possible to work together - not as a system of checks and balances but as friends.”
The visit to the Holy Land is the first for Francis as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and just the fourth for any pontiff in the modern era.
With so much at stake - the stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the plight of Christian refugees - the Pope’s every word, gesture and photo-op will be microscopically examined.
Already, some conservative Israelis are advocating against the Pope’s visit, scrawling anti-Christian graffiti on Catholic buildings in Jerusalem and planning protests outside papal events in Jerusalem.
While the protesters form a fringe minority, they underscore the tensions that simmer around the Pope’s short but substantial trip.
With those challenges in mind, here are five key things to pay particular attention to.
(CNN) - Most American Jews consider Judaism to be mainly a matter of culture and ancestry, according to a recent poll. An even higher percentage describe themselves as emotionally attached to Israel. For this we have one person to thank: King David.
The Israel we know today is a nation that David created virtually out of thin air. Before David, there were two territories, Israel to the north, and Judah to the south.
By sheer force of personality—and, to be fair, substantial military strength—David combined these two lands under a single crown (his). Not only had this never happened before; no one had ever thought of it before.
Although the Bible makes it sound as if everyone loved David, and were desperate to follow him, this wasn’t really the case. David took power by force.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - Heaven and Earth are said to meet atop Jerusalem’s sacred mounts, but the city’s stony streets have seen more than their share of violence.
King David subdued the Jebusites, the city's Canaanite founders. The Babylonians and Romans routed the Jews. Muslims booted the Byzantines. Christian Crusaders mauled Muslims and were, in turn, tossed out by the Tartars.
The Ottomans followed, then Britain, then Jordan, before finally, in 1967, the city came nearly full circle when Israel annexed East Jerusalem. That sparked another cycle of violence, this time between Israelis and Palestinians.
“It’s easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world,” says Anthony Bourdain, who visits Jerusalem in the season premiere of “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown,” which debuts Sunday night on CNN.
“And there’s no hope - none - of ever talking about it without pissing someone off.”
By Mohammed Jamjoom and Daniel Burke, CNN
Jerusalem (CNN) – A Catholic monk was not among the men beheaded in a gruesome video circulating online, a friar who oversees Franciscans in the Middle East told CNN in an exclusive interview.
Father Franҫois Mourad, a Syrian, was shot eight times and killed June 23 at a Catholic monastery in Gassanieh, said Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
Mourad was buried the same day in a nearby village, the friar said.
A nine-minute video, which appears to have been shot with a handheld device, shows three men being beheaded on a grassy hill while a crowd shouts, “Allahu Akbar!” – Arabic for God is great. It is not clear where or when the video was shot.
A number of Catholic websites in the United States have posted the video online, saying that Mourad was among the three beheaded men.
By Sara Sidner, CNN
Jerusalem (CNN) - A group of women in Israel is again expressing outrage after police detained some of its members for doing two things they say should be perfectly normal and legal: praying out loud and wearing a prayer shawl at the holiest site for prayer in Judaism.
The women who were detained on Thursday are part of a group that calls itself Women of the Wall. For more than two decades, its members have been defying traditionalists and the Israeli government.
The women say they should be able to pray as they wish at the Western Wall and be given the same rights as the men who pray there. The idea - and trying to make it true by just doing it - has outraged some of the ultra-Orthodox who pray at the wall, where a partition separates men and women. FULL POST
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN) - In religious studies courses, professors often try to get their students to see the world through Hindu eyes or to walk a few miles in the shoes of a Confucian. Anthropologists refer to this as cultivating an emic (or insider) perspective. The less fancy name for it is empathy.
Barack Obama is, for better or worse, an empathetic man who has tried for years to see the world through Republican eyes even as he has pleaded for Republicans to walk a few miles in Democratic shoes. As a former community organizer, he knows that you need a little empathy all around to get anything done among people with different world views. Alas, his efforts have met with little success in gridlocked D.C.
This week, Obama took his toolbox of hope, change, trust and empathy to Israel. Addressing a group of Israeli students in Jerusalem on Thursday, he spoke of Iran and of America’s unwavering support for Israel. He even fended off a heckler, joking, “We actually arranged for that, because it made me feel at home.”
(CNN) - Anat Hoffman had no idea who comedian Sarah Silverman was until Silverman's sister and niece were detained with her Sunday in Jerusalem for wearing prayer shawls as they prayed at the Western Wall.
Police detained 10 women for "performing a religious act contrary to the local customs." The group of women, who call themselves the Women of the Wall, went to pray in Jewish shawls known as tallitot that Israeli law says only Jewish men can wear there.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.