Remarks made on Saturday night by a leading Shas rabbi about the
national-religious community provoked outrage and consternation on Sunday from
Bayit Yehudi MKs.
Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a member of the four-man Council of
Torah Sages of the Shas movement and dean of the prestigious Porat Yosef yeshiva
in the Old City of Jerusalem, compared the national-religious community to
Amalek, the catchall Biblical enemy of the Israelites.
Cohen was speaking
at the synagogue in the residence of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,
who was present at the time.
Referencing a Biblical verse interpreted by
the Talmudic sages to mean that the Heavenly throne is not complete while the
nation of Amalek exists, Cohen said that likewise the Heavenly throne would not
be complete while there are people who wear knitted yarmulkes, meaning the
Cohen was riffing off the fact that the
Hebrew word for throne, keis, includes the first two letters of the words kippa
s’ruga, which means knitted yarmulke.
“As long as there are knitted
yarmulkes, the [Heavenly] throne is not complete, this is Amalek. When will the
[Heavenly] throne be complete, when there is no knitted yarmulke,” Cohen said
laughingly to chuckles from the audience.
Speaking about the possibility
that the controversial Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a conservative national-religious
candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi, might be elected, Cohen upped the ante even
“We will be unfortunate if he will be our rabbi,” he continued.
“I said this to his father [the late former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai
Eliyahu] next to [Rabbi Haim] Druckman and all those Amalekites.... These
[people] are Jews?” Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett denounced Cohen’s
comments and said the Shas movement should condemn the rabbi’s
“You should be ashamed of yourselves when thousands of [men] who
wear knitted yarmulkes are to be found from the border of Syria to the border of
Egypt, from battalion commanders to the last soldier, who are spitting blood to
defend [Israel], including the honorable rabbi,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook
“During these days, memorial services are being held for my fellow
soldiers who gave their lives in the Second Lebanon War, including secular
people and those who wear knitted yarmulkes, some who were [posthumously]
awarded medals of valor; these, too, the rabbi calls Amalek, for God’s sake,”
The Bayit Yehudi leader went on to praise
national-religious yeshiva students who will go on to perform military service,
and slammed Cohen’s disrespectful reference to Druckman, noting that this
leading national-religious figure is a yeshiva dean, spiritual leader of the
Bnei Akiva youth movement and Israel Prize laureate.
“On the eve of the
Fast of the Ninth of Av,” Bennett continued, “I call on all leaders and
representatives of Shas, from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who sat next to Rabbi Shalom
Cohen during the speech, down to the political representatives: Even if you’re
not in government, even if there are political arguments, you must reject and
condemn such talk.... I will not allow for such a campaign of incitement
to continue against the knitted yarmulke community. I am proud of the
He demanded that Shas reject Cohen’s comments by
On Sunday night, Cohen responded to the uproar, saying
that his comments had been directed “only at the leaders of Bayit Yehudi and
their supporters, who have sanctified a war against the world of Torah and the
yeshivot.” He was referring to proposed legislation for drafting yeshiva
students into the IDF and budget cuts for state-supported yeshivot.
forbid [someone should] claim these words were directed toward Your priceless
people, the House of Israel,” Cohen claimed.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie,
who is a member of the national-religious sector, said that the lesson of the
destruction of the Second Temple, which is commemorated on the Ninth of the
Jewish month of Av – this Monday night and Tuesday – had clearly not been
“It’s extremely sad to hear this baseless hatred right now on
the eve of the Ninth of Av, and its especially sad that these things were said
in front of senior Shas [officials] and not one person protested,” said
Minister for Pensioners Uri Orbach (Bayit Yehudi) responded to
Cohen’s comments in kind, citing a portion from the Prophets read in synagogue
on Shabbat: “Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one
loves bribes, and follows after rewards.”
Orbach pointed out that the
first two words of the passage begin with the Hebrew letters for
“This is exactly these people,” he declared, “and it explains why
we are obligated to distance them and their families from the chief rabbinate.
We’ve had enough of them, their intrigues and their curses.”
MK Mordechai Yogev said he prayed that “we will merit Torah scholars who
increase peace in the world, that dissension take hold of our enemies and that
love and unity will be the inheritance of our people.”
another Bayit Yehudi MK, said the Jewish people were commanded to increase love
for one another.
“Despite the struggle over the chief rabbinate, I expect
that Shas rabbis will lower the flame, and remind them that not all paths are
kosher for achieving the goal,” Kalfa said.
“The community of knitted
yarmulkes kill themselves in the tent of Torah,” he added, “whether in
premilitary academies, Hesder yeshivot or senior yeshivot, for the sake of
defending the state that is also for the people of Shas. I recommend that all of
us adopt the principle of the Talmudic sages: ‘Sages, be careful with your