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.
By Laura Smith-Spark, Ivan Watson and Delia Gallagher, CNN
Bethlehem, West Bank (CNN) - Pope Francis extended an invitation Sunday to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to travel to the Vatican for a "peace initiative," after earlier calling for a two-state solution to the intractable conflict.
The pontiff's remarks came at the end of an outdoor Mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square on the second day of his three-day trip to the Middle East.
"In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with Israeli President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," Francis said.
"I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer."
He added, "Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment. The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace."
The Palestinian side has accepted the invitation and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will go to the Vatican, a Palestinian Legislative Council member, Hanan Ashrawi, told CNN.
The Israeli President's office said that he welcomed the invitation. "President Peres has always supported, and will continue to support, any attempts to progress the cause of peace," his office said.
(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.
Washington (CNN) - Flanked by Jewish politicians in front of the United Nations on a July day, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton made a forceful appeal for the United States to back Israel as the Jewish nation's forces squared off against Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War.
"We will stand with Israel because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones," said Clinton, who was an outspoken defender of Israel and representative for American Jews for eight years in the Senate.
But it wasn't always that way. She had to work hard for Jewish support in 2000 as the New York Jewish community was skeptical of her support for Israel and publicly wondered whether the former first lady was too sympathetic with the Palestinians.
But by the time she ran for president in 2008, a number of Jewish Democrats said her record with the community was unprecedented. Touting her foreign policy credentials and defense of Israel, Jewish leaders flocked to Clinton as she ran against Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries.
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.”
World-renowned chef, best-selling author and Emmy-winning television personality Anthony Bourdain returns for the second season of CNN's showcase for coverage of food and travel. "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" is shot entirely on location and premieres Sept 15 at 9pm ET/PT. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook. Bourdain's first stop: Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Opinion by Richard Hect, special to CNN
JERUSALEM (CNN) - Perhaps the most repeated observation about Jerusalem is that it's a sacred city for the three monotheistic faiths of the west, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Hundreds of tour guides tell it to the busloads of tourists brought to the city each day. Journalists who have to file stories from and about Jerusalem will use this description in their leads.
But what does that observation really mean? What does it mean to call a place, a city sacred?
Of course, this immediately refers to sites and buildings which contain and make concrete the sacred or the holy. In Jerusalem, there are literally hundreds of these containers, some better known than others.
One can immediately think of the Western Wall for the Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Garden Tomb for Christians, or the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque for Islam.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel put religious studies over military duties. CNN's Sara Sidner reports.
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) - As I have read recent neoconservative diatribes against President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel – including charges that he is an anti-Semite and a full-page advertisement attacking him in The New York Times on Thursday – I have asked myself, “What would George Washington do?"
In his Farewell Address, published on September 19, 1796, Washington offered his hard-won wisdom on such matters as church and state, partisan politics, and foreign policy.
On foreign policy, Washington declared our independence from friends and foes alike, warning against the “evils” produced by “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others.” To love or hate another nation too deeply, he observed, “is in some degree to become a slave ... to its animosity or to its affection.”
(CNN)–Why a fight over water threatened to shut down one of the holiest sites in Christianity. CNN's Sara Sidner reports.
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – To English speakers, the name of Israel’s anti-Hamas campaign sounds pretty straightforward: “Operation Pillar of Defense.”
But reading the name of the Israeli operation in Hebrew might provoke some head-scratching. In Hebrew, the Israel Defense Forces have branded their recently launched anti-Hamas effort as “Operation Pillar of Cloud.”
An IDF spokesman explained that most Israelis would recognize “Pillar of Cloud” as a biblical reference.
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.