Death threats were made to three senior Reform leaders at a Reform synagogue in Ra’anana, leading to widespread condemnation from senior political leaders in Israel, including the prime minister, and an array of Diaspora leaders and organizations.
Three envelopes bearing the names of the Reform leaders were found at the Kehilat Ra’anan Reform synagogue on Thursday morning, alongside a large kitchen knife, while the synagogue itself was vandalized.
On the knife was written a reference to Jewish laws regarding murder written by Maimonides, which states that it is a commandment to kill a heretic.
The graffiti on the wall included a Star of David, and a quotation that the divine spirit never moves from the Western Wall, seemingly in reference to the struggle of the progressive Jewish denominations for a pluralist prayer space at the site.
The Reform leaders named on the envelopes are Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel; Anat Hoffman, director of the Reform Movement’s legal lobbying arm in Israel and chairwoman of Women of the Wall; and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Reform Movement in the US.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “strongly condemned” the threats, saying that such actions “have no place in our free society,” while Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who lives in Ra’anana, also denounced the incident.
“As parents, educators and human beings, we must condemn and uproot such acts which came to light this morning in Ra’anana,” said Bennett. “Around the world, and in Israel, Jews live with different worldviews. There are deep disputes on substantive issues, including the Jewish way of life..., but it is forbidden to allow disputes to descend into a harmful and inflammatory dialogue which could lead to physical harm to a person because of their opinions and faith.”
Hoffman said that the threats and vandalism were a result of the ongoing verbal attacks by religious politicians and leaders in Israel.
“This is what happens when members of the Knesset, ministers of the state, and prominent rabbis make almost daily speeches condemning Reform Jews as heretics, dogs, and any other insult you can imagine,” she said.
Kariv said that the death threats and the desecration of the synagogue was “a direct result of the unprecedented campaign of incitement against Reform Judaism that has taken place over the last year among the senior haredi political and rabbinic leadership. We hope that this event will be a warning sign for those people, and will remind them how to manage disputes. We will not be deterred by these threats, and will continue to advance our activities at the Western Wall, in Ra’anana and in dozens of communities around the country.”
Yossi Cohen, director of Kehilat Ra’anan where the threats were made, said this was the fifth time that the synagogue had been marred by graffiti, but that he was deeply shocked when he discovered the knife and envelopes.
The Jewish Federations of North America said it was “horrified” by the incident, and that the act was an attack on the entire Jewish people and an assault on its basic values.
“Violence, incitement and hatred have no place in any of our communities,” said the JFNA. “We thank the prime minister and other Israeli leaders for condemning this terrible act, and trust that they will take meaningful steps to fulfill the government of Israel’s commitment to making Israel, including the Western Wall, a safe and welcoming place for all Jews, and Israeli citizens.”
The American Jewish Committee said that the incident required urgent action by the law enforcement agencies, and reminded the prime minister of his promises to Diaspora Jewry to ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel.
“Any attack on a house of worship is despicable, but this one, apparently carried out by Jews infused with hatred of other Jews, is especially painful, and demands urgent attention by the Israeli government,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “The perpetrators, once identified, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The religious-Zionist rabbinical association Tzohar also condemned the incident, saying that differences of opinion should never lead to any hint of violence, verbal or physical.
“We wholly condemn what was done to the Reform center in Ra’anana, and join in the call for the authorities to act to stem any further tide of violence and not diminish the seriousness of these incidents.”
The Yesh Atid party condemned the threats, and expressed outrage at the “wild and dangerous incitement” which was exposed through the incident.
“The people who did this are full of hate, who have nothing to do with Judaism,” the party said in a statement. “This is an explicit threat to murder, and we expect the law enforcement agencies to work quickly and determinedly to find those involved and bring them to justice.”
MK Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party said that it was incumbent for people to cry out “when in the state of the Jewish people, a synagogue is desecrated and rabbis are threatened because they are Reform Jews.”