Kristol Clear Judah-ism–Leader of radical Jewish group advocates burning Christian churches

Benzi Gopstein of Lehava says Jewish law mandates putting churches to the torch and is prepared to sit in prison for saying so.


Times of Israel


The head of an extreme right-wing Israeli group opposed to Jewish-Arab integration has advocated the burning of mosques and Christian churches in Israel at a public forum.


Lehava chairman Bentzi Gopstein took part in a panel debating Jewish religious law Tuesday night alongside Rabbi Moshe Klein, rabbi of the Hadassah Hospitals; Tsuriel Krispal, deputy mayor of Elad; and Benny Rabinovitch, a writer for the ultra-Orthodox paper Yated Ne’eman.


Gopstein’s remarks came against the backdrop of an arson attack at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in June. Police arrested three Jewish suspects believed involved in the attack, some of whom were implicated in previous attacks on Christian sites in Israel.


During the debate, Rabinovitch asked Gopstein point blank whether he advocated the burning of Christian churches, according to a recording of the debate published Wednesday by the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabat.


‘Maimonides…’ Gopstein, alluding to the rulings of the 12th century Jewish sage, ‘commanded that as Jews you must burn the churches of the idolater Christians. Are you against Maimonides or in favor of Maimonides?’


‘Don’t tell me about Maimonides, I asked you what you say,’ Rabinovitch replied.


‘Of course I am,’ Gopstein said.


In December, following the torching of a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem and his arrest on suspicion of inciting terrorism, Gopstein said his organization does not act illegally and accused the Shin Bet security service of trying to frame Lehava to thwart its ‘holy work of saving the daughters of Israel.’ In July, members of Lehava were convicted in the attack on the school.


Lehava openly opposes the assimilation of Jews with Gentiles and its activists regularly rally against personal or business relationships between Jews and non-Jews, including marriages between Jews and Arabs.


‘The conclusion at this stage is that there is insufficient evidence to declare the organization illegal,’ the Shin Bet told Haaretz in a statement Tuesday. According to the report, the security agency said it would reconsider its assessment if new evidence against the nationalist group emerges.


The Shin Bet’s report came out amidst a crackdown on Jewish extremist groups following the firebombing of a Palestinian home near Nablus, in which a one-year-old baby and both his parents were burned to death. Three Jewish terrorists suspected of involvement in Jewish terrorist activity targeting Palestinians were placed under administrative detention in the wake of the attack.

Later in the panel conversation on Wednesday, Klein, the head rabbi of Hadassah, addressed Gopstein, saying, ‘Benzi, just now they filmed and recorded you, and if that reaches the police you’ll be arrested.’


‘That’s the last thing that bothers me,’ Gopstein can be heard saying. ‘If that’s the truth then I’m prepared to sit 50 years in prison for it.’


Gopstein responded to reports that he advocated burning churches by saying, ‘Jewish religious law is straightforward, which is that one must burn idolatry. There’s not a single rabbi that would deliberate that fact and I expect the government of Israel to carry that out.’


He told Kikar Hashabat, ‘I said that, and for speaking the truth, I am prepared to sit in prison.’

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