Rabbi Jacob Yisrael Herzog calls himself the first chief rabbi of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
But technically, there is no chief rabbi in the kingdom and Herzog does not live there.
However, last week the charismatic New York-born dual American-Israeli citizen, made headlines when he announced he wants to “boost Jewish presence in Saudi Arabia… contingent to (sic) the approval of the rulers of the kingdom.”
“I am very confident that (they) will understand the importance for the kingdom and the benefit they can derive from something like this,” Herzog said in an interview with i24 News.
On his website, Herzog states his mission: “Saudi Arabia is the fastest growing country in the world. We are here to accommodate the Jewish People in the Kingdom. Kosher food, Mikveh construction, a Rabbi when you need one, and to promote social programs for the benefit of all the wonderful residents of KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).”
But his mission may prove to be difficult: Islam is the only religion which may legally be practiced in the kingdom. There are no known Jewish services, and there are no churches either.
The Saudi Embassy told The Wall Street Journal: “Although Saudi Arabia has long promoted interfaith dialogue, and our leadership has met with many leaders representing different faiths to further that effort, Mr. Herzog’s visit to the kingdom was not part of that effort.”
According to one report, Herzog lives in Jerusalem now, but the Hasidic Jews said he feels safe, comfortable and even at home in Saudi Arabia.
On his website, he advertises his services as a certified mohel who can perform circumcisions and he offers Shabbat dinners for traveling Jews in Saudi Arabia – similar to Chabad centers around the world which hold religious services, Shabbat meals and special events for the local Jewish community and Jewish travelers.
Herzog said that despite standing out with his black Hasidic garb and long beard, he feels at home and was welcomed by the Saudi people. He hopes to see a Jewish house of worship in Neom, the futuristic zero-emissions city which is the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
“I really wanted to give them a solution of having Jewish services in Saudi Arabia, within the context of whatever is acceptable in the kingdom, of course,” he said.