A scandal erupted at a panel discussion held in the Wolfson Yeshiva in Jerusalem, when the chairman of Lehava organization Benzi Gopstein openly declared his support for the torching of churches.

Benzi Gopstein

Benzi Gopstein Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

To the astonishment of the remaining participants in the panel, who tried to confront him with words, Gopstein repeated his stand that church torching is a Torah commandment and is part of idolatry elimination: “Of course you should burn them.”

Two days after the Shin Bet decided not to declare his organization illegal, the chairman of the Lehava organization was recorded saying that he supports torching churches as part of Torah commandments calling to eliminate idolatry. Even the surprised and indignant responses of the other participants did not cause him to retract his words.

The argument among the panel participants was published in the Kikar Hashabbat website. “Do you support torching churches in Israel, yes or no?” asked Benny Rabinowitz of the Yated Neeman newspaper. “Maimonides says you should burn. Do you support or oppose Maimonides?” answered Gophstein. “Don’t talk to me about Maimonides, I asked you what do you say?” Rabinowitz insisted until he was answered – “Of course I do.”

Torched Church in the Galilee

Torched Church in the Galilee Photo Credit: Fire and rescue Northern region

Following his statement, members of the panel asked him again, “Benzi, do you support burning or not?” asked Rabbi Abba Tortzki who lead the panel discussion. “Of course I do. It’s from Maimonides. No question.”

Despite the panel members attempts to moderate his statement, Gopstein rejected their warnings once again. “Benzi, you are filmed and recorded. You might get arrested,” said Rabbi Klein. “That’s the last thing that bothers me,” answered Gopstein.

After the recording was released, Gopstein explained he is not torching and has no intention to torch churches.  He claimed that this was a simple Jewish law mentioned by Maimonides regarding the elimination of idolatry and no rabbi disputes that.

Only two days ago, the Shin Bet told Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon that there is not enough evidence against the Lehava organization, headed by Gopstein, in order to declare the organization illegal. The Shin Bet stressed however that new evidence will bring reexamination of this decision.

Benzi Gopstein said in response: “In the framework of a closed panel of the Wolfson Yeshiva, I said that according to Maimonides, idolatry should be eliminated. I stressed several times that I do not call to take operative steps, but that these are Maimonides teachings. I understand there is harsh criticism against right wing people, but I would recommend launching an investigation first against the mosque preachers or Tibi and Zoabi and later they can come to me.”