Vatican calls on A-G to indict extremist Jewish leader following endorsement of burning churches

Letter filed to A-G urges action in face of "real danger to churches and Christian communities in Israel."

Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein (photo credit: ARIK SULTAN)
Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein
(photo credit: ARIK SULTAN)
The Vatican called on Sunday on Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein to indict Benzi Gopstein, the head of the Jewish extremist group Lehava, on suspicion of incitement to violence and terrorism.
The letter, filed by the Vatican's representative in Israel, Custodia da Terra Santa, to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, followed comments made by Gopstein last week in favor of burning down churches in Israel. Lehava is a radical anti-assimilation and anti-missionary organization which has stirred great controversy since its founding in 2009.
During a panel debate on idol worship last Tuesday, Gopstein cited Maimonides’s ruling that Christianity is a form of idolatry that needs to be destroyed, in accordance with the commandment in Deuteronomy to destroy idol worship in the Land of Israel.
Thus, in theory, Gopstein said he was in favor of burning churches in Israel.
The Vatican’s letter stresses that urgent action must be taken against Gopstein “in the face of real danger to churches and Christian communities in Israel” as a result of his remarks.
The move follows a complaint filed to the police on Friday by Father Pietro Felet, the secretary-general of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land. The complaint was filed on behalf of some 20 patriarchs and bishops to express concern over growing security challenges to Christian communities and their holy sites in Israel and the West Bank.
Father Felet mentioned in his complaint several attacks on Christian holy sites by radical groups, and hinted that in the vast majority of these incidents the perpetrators were not brought to justice.
Gopstein took to Facebook to react to the letter, saying that he “views with great severity” the Vatican’s “intervention in halachic discussions.”
“It’s time to remind the Vatican that gone is the censorship period in which they censored Jewish books,” he added.
He also lashed out at Benny Rabinowitz, a journalist and editor with the Yated Ne’eman ultra-Orthodox newspaper, who drew and recorded Gopstein’s inflammatory statements when he asked him directly whether he is in favor of burning Christian churches in Israel. Gopstein claims that his comments were only made in the context of theoretical Jewish law and that he was not calling for operative steps by individuals.