08/10/2015, 00.00
ISRAEL - VATICAN
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Catholic leaders denounce extremist rabbi who encourages arson attacks on churches and mosques

by Joshua Lapide
The Assembly of the Ordinaries of the Holy Land, call upon the Israeli authorities to put a stop to "hate" and "the real threat to religious buildings”. Rabbi Benzi Gopstein believes that it is legitimate to burn "idolaters" places of worship according to Jewish law. The Lehava group, which Gopstein heads, is a racist and anti-Arab organization.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land have denounced an extremist rabbi who recently publicaly praised the burning churches and mosques, saying that it was legitimate "under Jewish law".

The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries, gathered on 7 August, issued a letter stating that "the Catholic community in the Holy Land is fearful and feels in danger." Therefore, in addition to denouncing the statements of the rabbi, Catholic leaders ask "the Israeli authorities ... to ensure real protection for Christian citizens of this country and their places of worship".

The appeal of the Catholic Ordinaries refers to a declaration by the leader of the extremist Lehava group, Benzi Gopstein. During a panel held for yeshiva students in Jerusalem last week, where in response to a question as to whether he “is in favor of burning churches in the Land of Israel,” Gopstein answered, “Did the Rambam [Maimonides] rule to destroy [idol worship] or not? Idol worship must be destroyed. It’s simply yes – what’s the question?”

When the panel moderator warned him the panel was being filmed, and that if the recording should get to the police he would be arrested, Gopstein replied, “That’s the last thing that concerns me. If this is truth, I’m prepared to sit in jail 50 years for it”.

The Catholic Ordinaries' letter recalls that such statements were made "after a series of acts of vandalism against the holy sites in Israel."

The latest in a series of attacks was the torching of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha. Previously there have been attempts to torch the the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and others.

Gopstein's statements - emphasize Catholic leaders - "incite hatred and pose a real threat to the Christian religious buildings in the country".

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land brings together 20 leaders of the local church including patriarchs, archbishops and bishops in Israel as well as the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Gopstein responded to their letter on Facebook. Attributing the message to the Vatican, he criticized the the Holy See's interjection in a "halakhic” discussion (rabbinical halakhah is the legal tradition). "It's time to remind the Vatican that the time of the censorship when they censored Jewish books is gone. Keep your hands away from Torat Yisrael," (the law of Israel).

Gopstein's group Lehava is an organization that claims to combat the loss of Jewish identity, especially in opposition to mixed marriages between Jews and Arabs. It is inspired by the ideology of Rabbi Meir Kahana, founder of the racist anti-Arab Kach. Meir Kahana's grandson, Meir Ettinger is one of three Jewish extremists in administrative detention after the arson attack on the Palestinian home in which an 18 month old infant died and that of the church of Tabgha.

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