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After Notre Dame fire, leading Israeli rabbi says ‘There is no mitzvah to [burn down] churches abroad. In our holy land, however, the issue is more complicated’

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Prominent settler rabbi, Shlomo Aviner, ruled today (Tuesday) that burning churches outside of the Land of Yisrael “isn’t our job for now”, but as for the Holy Land, “the issue is more complicated”. Aviner seemed to leave the question of burning churches in the Holy Land to the questioner.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (Photo: Wikimedia)

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (Photo: Wikimedia)

Aviner, who draws a public salary as the rabbi of the major settlement Beit El and is also the rabbi of a prestigious yeshiva (Ateret Yerushaliam, formerly Ateret Cohanim), is considered to be one most important rabbis of the religious nationalist sector. He is a prolific writer, having published more than 200 books in several languages. Aviner is also considered a pioneer of the SHUT-SMS phenomenon, by which fans send the rabbi a question via SMS message (and more recently, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp), and Aviner gives back a short reply. Aviner is one of the more popular SHUT-SMS rabbis because he tends to answer every question, even trollish ones (I’m speaking from experience here).

Today, after the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral, Aviner was asked the following question:

“The great Christian Church in Paris is on fire. Should we feel sorry for that, or should we rejoice, as it [the cathedral] is idolatry, which is a mitzvah to burn?”

The questioner is here referring to the Halachic ruling that churches are considered idolatry, and should be destroyed.

Aviner replied as follows:

“This isn’t our job for now. There is no mitzvah to seek out churches abroad and burn them down. In our holy land, however, the issue is more complicated. Indeed, the Satmar Rabbi noted one of his arguments against immigrating to Israel, that here it is indeed a mitzvah to burn churches; and by not doing so, those [immigrating to Israel] are committing a sin. Yet Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher, in his book ‘The Great Period’, rejected the Satmar Rabbi’s words, citing a midrash, forbidding burning [churches], since if we burn, we’ll have to rebuild, and it’s a greater sin to rebuild [a church] than leave it standing. [Here Aviner cites his own book vs. the Satmar Rabbi] That church in Paris, too, will surely be rebuilt.”

(Oh, yes: American Jewish readers, I probably need to stress this – this is not a parody or a satire. This is actual rabbinical discourse in 2019 Israel.)

Screenshot of Aviner’s opinion re church fires.

Aviner is touching here gingerly on a hot issue (pardon the pun) in his sector: Should churches be burned? Several churches have been burnt in Israel in the last few years, and the police have been spectacularly useless in capturing the arsonists. In several cases, the arson was accompanied by slogans familiar from ‘price tag’ attacks in the West Bank (mostly along the lines of Jewish vengeance). Four years ago, Lehava leader Benzi Gopstein, asked whether he supported church burnings, said “of course, what’s the question?” His words caused uproar. Later Gopstein was indicted on incitement to violence charges, but church burning wasn’t one of them.

Aviner, and other Orthodox rabbis, are in a bind here. Several immensely important rabbinic rulers, most prominent among them Maimonides, ruled that churches are places of idolatry and ought to be destroyed. The rulings are very clear. However, to support those rulings today would lead to violence, probably to a rise in anti-Semitism, and will jeopardize the alliance between the settler movement and the evangelical movement. There is also a chance of getting prosecuted for incitement for hatred, which is a crime in Israel – but then again, the law has a special exemption for “religious studies”, and the prosecution has been very leery of prosecuting rabbis for hate speech, making “religious discussions” the prime way of legally-protected incitement.

Note that Aviner is walking a very tight rope here. He is dismissing out hand the burning of churches abroad, but when it comes to burning churches in Israel, he quotes two sources, not giving his own ruling. The fact that he has to walk this tightrope says volumes about the discourse among his followers and students.

Yossi Gurvitz
About Yossi Gurvitz

Yossi Gurvitz is a journalist and a blogger, and has covered the occupation extensively.

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30 Responses

  1. JWalters
    JWalters on April 16, 2019, 8:09 pm

    Glad you clarified that this is NOT satire. I thought it was a Saturday Night Live skit! Live and learn.

    • Rashers2
      Rashers2 on April 19, 2019, 4:44 am

      Mitzvahs? Aren’t these the Judaic prescriptions or commandments, some of direct, Torahic origin but mostly man-made in a rabbinate near you? They sound, look and smell remarkably like those other prescriptive or prohibitive instruments either of scriptural origin or emerging from post-scriptural, theological scholarship, the more colourful of which the MSM eagerly seize upon to scare readers/viewers and to engender or foster antipathy towards another, much larger and globally more significant faith group. What are they called, now? Ah, yes: Fatwas.
      “Lehava leader Benzi Gopstein, asked whether he supported church burnings, said ‘of course, what’s the question?’ His words caused uproar. Later Gopstein was indicted on incitement to violence charges, but church burning wasn’t one of them.” Lehava/ Gopstein are the chimera of Zionism uninhibited, uncaged and unchained…… No words printable here or on any moderated forum can adequately describe or characterise the atavistic depravity of such people. Recent reports of increases in the frequency and brazenness of settler assaults (including murder) on Palestinians and their property/homes/means of livelihood in the OWB suggest that the ilk of Gopstein will have been emboldened by the ratcheting-up of ethno-nationalist rhetoric and the disclosure (as if, beforehand, it had been secret…..) of Mileikowsky’s and cohorts’ project to annexe to Israel the whole of the OWB as well as the already-claimed Golan Heights in Syria. Quite how much of a permanency the latter will prove remains to be seen despite the Empire’s recognition, in flagrant disregard of International Law, of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan. The Levant hasn’t a good track record of peaceful outcomes over the past 102 years when it comes to one party agreeing to grant another party the property and rights of a third.
      À propos @JWalters’ comment, too, I picked up this instalment of “Ziopathy Unhinged” via Twitter from a site called “The Federalist” and thought at first pass that it, too, was satire:; apparently not! Having read the linked essay, I didn’t then analyse it line by line for omissions of fact and interpolation of factoids, facts-on-the-ground, miss-statements, logical non-sequiturs, historical misrepresentations, inaccuracies, irrelevancies, revisionism and outright lies because a read-through reveals it akin to a string of Trump tweets on any theme: whatever argument it is seeking to advance or conclusion in which it is inviting the reader to concur, it is a “given” that every load-bearing wall is built on the quicksand of falsehood and fitting the “facts” to the writer’s narrative or opinion. The author is Prof. Jason D. Hill, “honors distinguished professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago. His areas of specialization include [my emphasis] ETHICS, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, American foreign policy, cosmopolitanism and RACE THEORY.”
      I’ve one question only for the academic governing body of DePaul University: HOW-IS-IT-THAT-PROFESSOR-HILL-STILL-HOLDS-TENURE?

  2. eljay
    eljay on April 16, 2019, 8:15 pm

    Being a (Jewish or other) supremacist is like being a compulsive liar: You always have to “walk a very tight rope” to make sure you keep your stories / lies straight so that they defend your hateful and immoral position.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso on April 17, 2019, 10:50 am


      Gorging on U.S. taxpayer provided financial aid and Trump’s eagerness to be bribed by and obey Sheldon Adelson and Netanyahu, et al, the criminal entity known as “Israel” is digging its grave. Americans are increasingly seeing the light and realizing that “Israel” has become their pimp/master and America has become “Israel” and Zionism’s hooker/victim.

      • eljay
        eljay on April 17, 2019, 11:09 am

        || Misterioso: @eljay … Americans are increasingly seeing the light and realizing that “Israel” has become their pimp/master and America has become “Israel” and Zionism’s hooker/victim. ||

        And the greater the realization by Americans that Zionists and Israel are screwing them over, the harder Zionists will work to anti-Semitically conflate Zionism and Israel with all Jews and all Jews with Zionism and Israel.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on April 17, 2019, 12:01 pm

        Gee, Rabbi Aviner, do you really think this is a good time to revive the anti-semitic tropes about Jews and arson?

  3. Kay24
    Kay24 on April 16, 2019, 8:55 pm

    It seems it is okay to vandalize and burn Mosques and Churches in Israel:

    53 Mosques and Churches Vandalized in Israel Since 2009, but Only 9 Indictments Filed
    The many unsolved crimes are a question of police priorities, says head of monitoring group. ‘Without a doubt, they aren’t looking hard enough’
    Over 50 Christian and Muslim sites have been vandalized in Israel and the West Bank since 2009, but only nine indictments have been filed and only seven convictions handed down, according to Public Security Ministry data. Moreover, only eight of the 53 cases are still under investigation, with the other 45 all closed.
    The ministry data only goes through July 2017, but the vandalism hasn’t ended.
    The latest attack occurred last Wednesday, at St. Stephen’s Church in the Beit Jamal Monastery, near Beit Shemesh. Many items were broken, including some of the stained glass windows and a status of the Virgin Mary. Police are investigating, but so far no suspects have been arrested and the motive is said to be unknown.”

    All that and the Evangelicals think Jesus will land in that racist nation, or else why do they want us to send billions of dollars to these racists?

    • Marnie
      Marnie on April 17, 2019, 12:01 am

      All that and the Evangelicals think Jesus will land in that racist nation, or else why do they want us to send billions of dollars to these racists?’

      Don’t christians believe that the way to heaven is vis-a-vis the jews who reject Jesus as the messiah? I think these evangelicals are funding the 3rd temple project because I don’t believe they are rebuilding the churches destroyed by israelis, and trying to curry favor with God (‘those who bless israel….’) instead of following the teachings of Jesus, who they claim is their savior, by caring for the sick, feeding the poor, visiting those in prison and loving their neighbors.

      Blondie – Rapture – YouTube

      • Kay24
        Kay24 on April 17, 2019, 8:23 am

        Unfortunately, the zionist media in the US, never cover these racist events in Israel, trying hard to keep that false image that Israel is such a beacon of shining light, and love the Christians.

        Imagine the scenario had these ugly hate crimes had been in Iran. Netanyahu might have shown yet another cartoon bomb and how anti Christian they are in Iran.

    • oldgeezer
      oldgeezer on April 17, 2019, 11:46 am

      And turning mosques into bars/events hall. Truly disgusting country which risibly claims it protects all religions.

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer on April 17, 2019, 8:36 pm


        Absolutely. Nothing wrong with it. I confess I didn’t read your links. I am assuming they were done with the approval of the local religious authorities evidenced either by consent or a sale with no restrictive terms.

        Did the local muslim population agree with what Israel did? No.

        What happened to the local muslim population? It used to be majority Muslim.

        Don’t play dumb jon. You’re just flat out crooked.

      • Jon66
        Jon66 on April 17, 2019, 9:46 pm

        “And turning mosques into bars/events hall. Truly disgusting country”

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer on April 17, 2019, 11:39 pm


        Glad you learned how to quote text. You have surpassed many of your zionist bretheren who think their interpretations are quotations.

        A great acheivement for you. It leaves me wondering how you could be qualified to teach anyone anything but an acheivement for you and zionism. post edit whoops… you aren’t the teacher jon, just the racist jon.

        You adressed nothing. You answered nothing. You rebutted nothing.

        I hope you don’t take this wrong or even take offence. I know how easily your sensibilities are impinged but for some reason you always make me think of summer’s eve.

      • Marnie
        Marnie on April 18, 2019, 5:06 am

        oldgeezer – IMHO, the land is not to blame. The people are. Let me be very clear so even jon66 understands what people I refer to. Its the jewish settlers, the tzizit and peyot crowd, pouring that old Mad Dog down their gullets, spitting out mitzvot here and there, and most of the jewish population (because of the election you see, still voting for murder, mayhem and destruction of palestinians/palestine) that are truly disgusting, revolting, violent, racist, xenophobic and incomprehensibly stupid. Clutch your pearls zionist trolls.

      • Jon66
        Jon66 on April 18, 2019, 6:35 pm

        I was confused. I thought that “turning mosques into bars/events hall.” Made one a “Truly disgusting country”
        But now I see that criteria only applies to Israel. My bad.

      • RoHa
        RoHa on April 18, 2019, 9:01 pm

        Criterion – singular.
        Criteria – plural.

        And it applies to any country which turns religious buildings into bars/events halls without the agreement of the relevant local religious community.

      • Marnie
        Marnie on April 18, 2019, 11:57 pm

        ‘But now I see that criteria only applies to Israel. My bad.’ Oh poor little israel, so misunderstood, so maligned, so unfairly called out, yeah right. So typical, when israel is called out and criticized, it goes from proud, arrogant asshole to victim in a heartbeat. Sad when you realize your BS isn’t going down so smoothly anymore. Sure there will always be a few loyalists, but more and more and more the sun is shining bright on the crimes of this government. You can always count on the talentless Madonna to come to the ‘white city’ and shake her 60-year-old ass though! Maybe they’ll roll out Mick Jagger for another performance after he recovers from heart surgery! Just what you deserve, old ass has beens or young no talents, autotuning their way into the nonexistent hearts of zionist israelis. Yikes.

      • Jon66
        Jon66 on April 19, 2019, 8:30 am

        How would that work? A property with a formerly religious purpose is up for sale. There are no zoning laws controlling its use. Before I buy it to turn it into a bar I would need to check with the religious community? I don’t agree with that veto power.

      • gamal
        gamal on April 19, 2019, 8:51 am

        “when you realize your BS isn’t going down so smoothly anymore”

        yes it seems Gallup has been or is having a little polling problem, Israel a harder sell than one might think, even to Americans

        “Gallup Quietly Admits ‘Israeli vs. Palestinian’ Sympathy Polls Are Misleading – 4/17/2019

        Pollster Gallup admitted on March 28 that three decades of polling data contain fundamental flaws “well beyond what we would attribute to normal sampling error.”

        Gallup’s admission centers on its high-stakes question of whether Americans have greater sympathy for Israelis or for Palestinians. Gallup loudly trumpeted that Americans “increasingly sympathized with Israel in recent years.” U.S. based Israel affinity organizations and the Congressional Research Service long used Gallup sympathy polls to claim that most Americans support giving most of the US foreign aid budget to Israel.”

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer on April 19, 2019, 12:09 pm


        I was confused. I thought that “turning mosques into bars/events hall.” Made one a “Truly disgusting country”
        But now I see that criteria only applies to Israel. My bad.”

        Not remotely true jon. Not close to what I said.

        I apologize for accusing you of playing stupid. My condolences to who must deal with you day to day.

      • RoHa
        RoHa on April 19, 2019, 10:00 pm

        When a religious building is up for sale, it usually with the agreement of the local religious authorities and community.

        Of course, if the building has been seized by invaders who have driven away the local religious community, and the invaders are then selling it to other invaders, then there is no agreement.

    • umm al-hamam
      umm al-hamam on April 17, 2019, 9:04 pm

      Evangelical Protestants think Middle Eastern Christians of all varieties—particularly Orthodox ones—are idolaters and Satanists rather than “true Christians” for a variety of theological reasons, and therefore would have no problem with Israel destroying their churches and monasteries. In fact they might even encourage it.

  4. Vera Gottlieb
    Vera Gottlieb on April 17, 2019, 11:15 am

    Who is the brain-dead idiot asking this kind of question???

  5. YoniFalic
    YoniFalic on April 17, 2019, 12:44 pm

    SHUT-SMS stands for Sheelah veTeshuvah (Question&Answer or SHUT) SMS (Short Message Service).

  6. JaapBo
    JaapBo on April 17, 2019, 2:43 pm

    “Yet Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher, in his book ‘The Great Period’, rejected the Satmar Rabbi’s words, citing a midrash, forbidding burning [churches], since if we burn, we’ll have to rebuild, and it’s a greater sin to rebuild [a church] than leave it standing.”

    But what if the occupier is Zionist and you don’t have to rebuild?

  7. genesto
    genesto on April 17, 2019, 7:13 pm

    This is just too good of a potential skit for SNL to turn down – except for the fact that SNL would be cancelled in a New York minute if it ever did take this on!

  8. Ossinev
    Ossinev on April 18, 2019, 5:29 am

    Increasingly par for the course in what has become a freakshow “nation”. Can`t be long now before the freaks get their longed for cherished desire to carry out live sacrifices of goats in the Al Asqa compound (aka Temple Mount) either by live barbecues or just chucking them over the top.

    Don`t you just love Zionist civilisation.

  9. MHughes976
    MHughes976 on April 18, 2019, 12:07 pm

    The overwhelming majority response from Jews and Muslims has been humane and sympathetic, of course. You don’t often catch Israeli and Iranian official spokespersons saying much the same thing but this time they did.

  10. Yitzgood
    Yitzgood on April 18, 2019, 12:17 pm

    Would actual citations to sources referenced be too much to ask?

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