Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein.
(photo credit: ARIK SULTAN)
Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein, the extremist leader of the radical Lehava anti-assimilation and anti-missionary organization, said that he would support the burning of churches, in a panel debate Tuesday on idol worship.
The commandment in Deuteronomy to destroy idol worship in the Land of Israel was the main topic of discussion at the debate at the Wolfson Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Some rabbinic authorities, including the medieval scholar Maimonides, ruled that due to various aspects of Christian practice and theology, Christianity is idolatry.
Benny Rabinowitz, a journalist and editor with the Yated Ne’eman haredi (ultra-Orthodox) daily newspaper and a participant in the panel, asked Gopstein directly during Tuesday’s debate whether he is in favor of burning Christian churches in Israel.
In recordings obtained by the Kikar Hashabbat haredi news website, Gopstein is heard replying, “Are you against Maimonides or in favor of him?” Rabinowitz replied, “Don’t talk to me about Maimonides, I asked you what you think.”
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Gopstein said, “For sure... Did Maimonides rule that you need to destroy or not? Idolatry needs to be destroyed.”
Following the publication of the recording of the conference, Gopstein issued a statement saying his comments were made only in the context of theoretical Jewish law.
“In a closed panel in Wolfson Yeshiva a debate arose on Maimonides’s opinion on Christianity. During the debate, I said that according to Maimonides one needs to destroy idolatry.
“I emphasized several times 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.
“I understand that there is criticism of the right wing and [they] are trying to trap us for every word, but I would recommend that first an investigation be opened up into preachers in mosques or [MK Ahmed] Tibi or [MK Haneen] Zoabi.”
Gopstein is known for his extremist positions on issues on the conflict with the Palestinians, Jewish intermarriage, and homosexuality.
In July, Gopstein’s Lehava organization disrupted a conference of Messianic Jews in Jerusalem, during which two activists were detained for disturbing the peace.
Last week the group protested the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade – in which six people were stabbed, including Shira Banki, who died of her wounds – and regarding which Gopstein compared homosexuality to pedophilia.