Leader of hardline group stated that burning churches to fight "idolatry" was justifiable
Relations between Catholics and Jews has perhaps never been better, but a group of bishops in the Holy Land found the remarks of a rabbi so incendiary last week that they filed a complaint about him.
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land filed a complaint against Israeli Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein and the Lehava movement, following remarks the rabbi made about supporting and encouraging the burning of churches in Israel.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem reported that Rabbi Gopstein, leader of what it called an "anti-Jewish assimilation extremist movement" made the remarks at a panel discussion for yeshiva students. "He did not hesitate to assert that Jewish law advocated destroying the land of idolatry Israel, and therefore churches and mosques could be burned," a press release from the Patriarchate said:
These remarks, which came after a troublesome act of vandalism against the Holy Place of Tabgha in Israel, are unacceptable to the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. They incite hatred and pose a real threat to the Christian religious buildings in the country.
The Catholic community in the Holy Land is fearful and feels in danger. …
The AOCHL calls on the Israeli authorities to ensure real protection for Christian citizens of this country and their places of worship.
In addition, the Custody of the Holy Land called on Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to indict Gopstein on charges of incitement to racism, YNet News reported.
According to the Jerusalem Post, a journalist and editor with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish daily newspaper Yated Ne’eman haredi, Benny Rabinowitz, asked Gopstein 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 [medieval Jewish philosopher Moses] Maimonides or in favor of him?”
Rabinowitz, also a participant in the panel, replied, “Don’t talk to me about Maimonides, I asked you what you think.”
Gopstein replied, “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. His statement read in part:
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.