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Rabbi Reuven Hammer Decries Growth of Religious Intolerance in Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2017

Religious intolerance is growing in Israel. Writing in The Jerusalem Report  
(Oct. 2, 2017), Rabbi Reuven Hammer, a past president of the International  
Rabbinical Assembly, notes that, “I have never been able to fathom how  
religious Jews can justify actions, including rabbinic injunctions, that  
discriminate against non-Jews, be they Muslims or Christians. Do they not  
realize that such discrimination is forbidden by Jewish teachings?”  
Since 2009, at least 53 churches and mosques have been vandalized in Israel  
and in the occupied West Bank. The vast majority, 53, have been closed  
without any charges against perpetrators.  
In an attack on Sept. 20, vandals shattered a statue of the Virgin Mary,  
broke stained glass windows and destroyed a cross in St. Stephen’s Church in  
the Beit Jamal Salesian Monastery west of Jerusalem. This was the third  
attack on Beit Jamal in the past four years. No arrests have ever been made.  
Wadie Abunassar, adviser to the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy  
Land, says, “We are fed up with repeated attacks on holy places and with  
Israeli authorities who have failed to deal with the phenomenon.” He reports  
that there is constant incitement by extremist rabbis inspiring such actions  
and cites the 2009 best-seller, The King’s Torah, written by Rabbis Yitzhak  
Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. The book declares, “The prohibition ‘Thou Shalt  
Not Murder’ applies only to a Jew who kills a Jew.”  
Among figures encouraging attacks on churches and mosques is Bentzi  
Gopstein, the head of Lehava, a vigilante group that opposes marriage  
between Jews and non-Jews. In 2015, Gopstein publicly called for the burning  
of churches and mosques. The Vatican urged Israel to charge Gopstein with  
incitement to violence and terrorism. Months later, Gopstein wrote an  
article calling Christians “blood-sucking vampires” and urging their  
expulsion from the country. No action has been taken against him and Prime  
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored calls from Christian religious  
leaders to discuss this growing problem.  
Rabbi Hammer recalls that after he moved to Israel, when his children were  
in state religious schools, “I was astounded when my son would recount that  
when their bus would go through Arab areas on school trips, many of his  
classmates would shout anti-Arab curses through the windows and the teachers  
would not reprove them. As time goes on, I have witnessed actions worse than  
those — yeshiva students spitting at non-Jews; attempts at burning churches;  
and the actions of revenge, including burning an Arab house, killing several  
inside, and the murder of an innocent Arab teenager. We have read about  
rulings by official rabbis forbidding Jews to rent rooms to Arab students  
and worst of all, we have witnessed the publication of a book such as Torat  
Hamelech, written by rabbis and endorsed by well known rabbinic figures,  
permitting the killing of Arabs, including children … If such a book had  
been written by a Christian or Muslim cleric we would have condemned it as  
nothing less than incitement to murder. Have we come to our own state in  
which Jews are a majority only to see Judaism used as an excuse to despise  
non-Jews and discriminate against them?”  
In Jewish tradition, Rabbi Hammer says, there are indeed individual rulings  
and statements that argue that Jews are superior to non-Jews and rulings  
that permit discrimination. But, he argues, “These negative ideas were far  
outweighed by teachings of the Torah, the sages and medieval authorities …  
Such prominent figures as Rabbi Akiva and Rabban Gamaliel actively opposed  
such laws and even nullified them … As for Jewish superiority … the sages  
constantly cite the Torah’s declaration that all humans are made in God’s  
image and that all humanity has only one set of parents … Judaism in Israel,  
all too often, has become the exclusive tool of fanatics — both religious  
and political … Judaism teaches that all | human beings are made in the  
divine image and that other religions are to be respected. To condemn all  
Arabs is to do to them what was done to Jews throughout history … Let us not  
do unto others what was done unto us.”  
In November, religious intolerance in Israel manifested itself at the  
Western Wall when a delegation of Reform movement leaders tried to hold a  
Torah-reading service at the site.  
According to Haaretz (Nov. 16, 2017), “Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the  
Union for Reform Judaism, was roughed up by security guards employed at the  
Western Wall, one of whom threatened to spray him with mace, according to  
eyewitnesses. Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, the feminist  
prayer group, was accosted by an ultra-Orthodox man, who tried to pull a  
Torah scroll out of her hands. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the  
Reform movement in Israel, was detained for questioning by police after the  
incident, which he described as ‘one of the most violent’ he ever witnessed  
at the Jewish holy site.” •

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