Ateret Cohanim (lit. "Crown of the Priests"), also Ateret Yerushalayim, is an Israeli Jewish organization with a yeshiva located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It works for the creation of a Jewish majority in the Old City and Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Founded in 1978, it was originally known under the name Atara Leyoshna (lit. “[returning the] former glory"). After many disagreements about the nature of its activities, the organization closed and re-opened as a new association called Ateret Cohanim with a yeshiva of that name. While the activities of Atara Leyoshna focused mainly on locating Jewish assets in the Muslim Quarter and transferring them into Jewish hands through legal means, the activities of Ateret Cohanim involves acquiring illegally houses in the Muslim quarter or renting them from government companies and populating them with Jews. The association owns many buildings in the Old City, where over 80 families live. Some estimate that 1,000 Israeli Jews live in houses that Ateret Cohanim purchased in the Old City since 1978. The head of the association is Mati Dan. It depends heavily on donations from American Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna Moskowitz.
Torat Chaim Yeshiva
In 1886, Rabbi Yitzchak Winongrad established the Torat Chaim Yeshiva on ha-Gai Street, facing the Temple Mount. At its peak, about 300 students from all over the world, including Rabbis Tzvi Pesach Frank, Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and Aryeh Levin studied there. The ground floor of the building served as a shop selling vegetables which provided funds for the yeshiva's maintenance.
In the wake of the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, the yeshiva relocated to the new city, leaving the building and its contents entrusted to an Arab watchman who faithfully preserved it until the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. This yeshiva was the only one out of approximately 80 synagogues and study halls that was not destroyed by Jordan during the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem. In 1967, the caretaker gave the keys to Chaim Herzog (in his function as the military governor of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank), telling him that "the holy place watched over me more than I watched over it" during those years.
On the first night of Hanukkah 1978, a new yeshiva was established on the same premises. Headed by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, it now has an enrollment of 150 students from all over Israel, many of whom serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
Around the year 2000 the association began to acquire land in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem outside the Old City along with the Ir David Foundation. These two settler organizations operate mainly in the village of Silwan and next to the Beit Orot Yeshiva on the Mount of Olives. Ateret Cohanim also acquired land to judiacize Abu Dis and near the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik in Sheikh Jarrah.
In 2014 Ateret Cohanim continued their ‘judaization' of Arab neighborhoods near Herod’s gate. In a letter to supporters, the Executive Director, Daniel Luria, announced the purchase of a property in the heart of East Jerusalem’s business district on the corner of Salah ad-Din and Sultan Suleiman. The organization plans to open a yeshiva here on Passover of 2014. Local Arab business owners fear that the yeshiva will harm their businesses by bringing an inevitable increased militarization to the heart of this East Jerusalem neighborhood.
In the Old City, the yeshiva was involved in buying property from Arabs, Greeks, and Armenians. Ateret Cohanim reportedly owns more than 70 buildings in the Muslim Quarter. The property includes their yeshiva, the building that houses Yeshiva Shuvu Banim, several dormitories, a museum, and about 50 apartment units. Some of the property belonged to Jews who lived in the Muslim Quarter before they were driven out by pogroms in 1929 and 1936. Other properties belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church, in the Christian Quarter, prior to a disputed deal which involved the Patriarch Irineos, resulting in properties tenants in the Christian Quarter being driven out.
Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham is one of the notable alumni of the yeshiva.
The organization has been involved in a number of legal disputes due to their illegal attempts to ‘judaicize’ East Jerusalem. In April 2009, members of Ateret Cohanim moved into a house in East Jerusalem over which it claimed ownership, despite a court ruling to the contrary. A spokesperson said that they had bought the property. In the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, Ateret Cohanim also built Beit Yonatan, a six story apartment building named after Jonathan Pollard. It is currently guarded by a private organization which is now funded by the Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction. The Supreme Court ruled the building illegal. Despite the order of eviction for Beit Yonatan, it was avoided when Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat linked their eviction to the eviction of Palestinian families from a former synagogue prior to 1948. This delaying tactic permitted Barkat to avoid any eviction of the settler group from Beit Yonatan.
- "Israelis seize house in Jerusalem". AFP. 2009-04-03.
- A United Jerusalem - the story of Ateret Cohanim, Ann Johnson, Ktav pub., 1992, ISBN 0-88125-424-X