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 national-religious community.

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 further.

“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 speech.

“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 page.

“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,” Bennett raged.

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 knitted yarmulkes.”

He demanded that Shas reject Cohen’s comments by Sunday morning.

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.

“God 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 learned.

“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 Lavie.

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 Shas.

“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.”

Bayit Yehudi 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.”

Zvulun Kalfa, 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 words.’”

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