Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Breaking News

Extremist Lehava Head Says He Supports Burning of Churches and Mosques

(JTA) — The head of the extremist Lehava anti-co-existence group said he supports the burning of churches and mosques.

Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein made the statement during a symposium on the topic of halacha, or Jewish religious law on Tuesday night at the Wolfson Yeshiva in Jerusalem. The statement was first reported Wednesday evening by the haredi Orthodox news website Kikar HaShabbat, which obtained a recording of the debate.

Other members of the panel included: Rabbi Moshe Klein of Hadassah Hospitals; Tzuriel Krispal, deputy mayor of Elad; and Benny Rabinowitz of the hared Orthodox newspaper Yated Ne’eman.

Rabinowitz asked Gopstein during the debate if he supports the torching of Christian churches in Israel.

Gopstein replied: Did Maimonides rule that you need to destroy them or not? Idolatry needs to be destroyed.”

Rabinowitz then asks Gopstein not to quote Maimonides, but to say what he personally thinks. “Certainly,” Gopstein replied.

Klein then warns Gopstein that his statement is grounds for arrest. “If that’s the truth then I’m prepared to sit 50 years in prison for it,” Gopstein responded.

Rabinowitz also tweeted the exchange and was later criticized by the yeshiva students for that.

After the release of the recording, Gopstein said in a statement to Israeli media: “At a closed panel of the Wolfson Yeshiva, there was a halachic debate about the Rambam’s approach to Christianity. During the debate I said that, according to the Rambam, idol worship must be destroyed. I stressed several times I was not calling to take operative steps, but that this is the Rambam’s approach and that it’s the responsibility of the government, not of individuals.”

“I understand that there is criticism of the right wing and they are trying to trap us for every word, but I would recommend that first an investigation be opened up into preachers in mosques or [Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmed] Tibi or [Arab-Israeli lawmaker Haneen] Zoabi. Then let them come to me,” the statement also said.

Lehava opposes intermarriage and joint Jewish-Arab initiatives. Members of the group staged a protest in December against a marriage between an Israeli Muslim man and a Jewish woman. The group also protested the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade last week, where a lone attacker stabbed six marchers, killing a teen-age girl.

Next: Rivlin tells Netanyahu to repair relationship with Obama > STAY INFORMED: JTA IN YOUR INBOX

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.