Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog speaks to the press.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The leader of the opposition, Labor chairman Isaac Herzog, along with several other public figures and organizations, has called for Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein to be arrested and his extremist Lehava organization to be outlawed following the rabbi’s comments that he is in favor of burning churches.
Gopstein was involved in a panel debate on Tuesday regarding Jewish law’s approach to idolatry, including the opinion of Jewish law on the status of Christianity, which some rabbinic authorities in the past deemed to be akin to idolatry.
Asked if he supported the burning of churches, he replied, “For sure,” and subsequently referenced the medieval rabbinic authority Maimonides’ opinion on Christianity, saying “Did Maimonides rule that you need to destroy or not? Idolatry needs to be destroyed.”
Gopstein later explained that “I was not calling to take operative steps, but rather that this was Maimonides’s stance, and that this [step] would be incumbent on the government and not individuals.
Writing on his Facebook page, Herzog called for “actions not words” in response to the rabbi’s comments.
“The Lehava organization is a fanatic Jewish organization which stirs up hatred and dispute between religions and faiths in the Holy Land,” wrote Herzog.
“It must be outlawed immediately and its leaders who incite must be arrested. We must fight Jewish terror with actions and not with words. And now.”
Speaking to Channel 2 on Thursday, Gopstein said that his comments had been taken out of context and that he had said during the debate that individuals should not take any action but that “the government should take action” and should “act in accordance with Jewish law.”
Earlier this week, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) issued a legal opinion to the Defense Ministry saying that it did not have sufficient evidence to ban Lehava.
The legal opinion was requested by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon seven months ago after a Jewish-Arab coexistence school in Jerusalem was the subject of an arson attack by at least two Lehava activists.
The Hiddush religious pluralism organization denounced Gopstein, and argued that the rabbi’s comments should not be excused by the police or the courts simply because he was citing sources regarding Jewish law.
In the past, rabbis who have made public comments or written books which include incitement to violence have not been prosecuted because their statements were considered to be outside of legal jurisdiction since they pertained to an academic analysis of Jewish law.
Torat Hamelech (“The King’s Torah,”) a treatise on Jewish law authored by two rabbis from the settlement of Yitzhar in 2009, stated that non-Jewish noncombatants, including children, may be preemptively killed in a time of war.
The Attorney-General’s Office opened an investigation into the rabbis but concluded that works pertaining to rulings on religious law or publications of religious sources should not be dealt with in criminal proceedings, in order to preserve freedom of religion.
“How much more violence needs to happen before the legal authorities understand that preventative action needs to be taken,” Hiddush director, attorney and reform Rabbi Uri Regev, stated.
“Gopstein, the extremist Meir Ettinger, and those who disseminated ‘The King’s Torah’ and their like are operating openly and on social media and using partial and distorted quotes of ancient Jewish law to bring about a war of everyone against everyone else in order to undermine public order.
“The time has come to assert that words of incitement to violence which are hidden within works of Jewish law, be it Jewish, Islamic or otherwise, will not constitute a defense in every circumstance,’ continued Regev, insisting that if the person citing Jewish law does not make clear that “violence is always prohibited” then legal proceedings should be initiated against him.
The Tag Meir anti-racism organization called for Gopstein to be arrested for incitement to violence.
“In light of the recent incidents of Jewish terror, it is clear that a real danger exists that Gopstein’s call will fall on attentive ears and bring about additional acts of violence,” said Tag Meir chairman Gadi Gvaryahu.
Gopstein and Lehava are known for their extremist positions on issues such as Jewish intermarriage, Christian evangelical groups, homosexuality and the conflict with the Palestinians.
In December, Lehava activists were indicted for an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab coexistence school in Jerusalem and in July, Gopstein’s Lehava organization disrupted a conference of Messianic Jews (Christians) in Jerusalem, during which two activists were detained for disturbing the peace.