Mar 02, 2021
JERUSALEM WEATHER

In Israel as in the US, cries of discrimination blame the authorities for shutting down religious gatherings while allowing political demonstrations and even riots to continue. A major rabbi in Israel has issued an impassioned plea for peace and tolerance from all sides while warning that the alternative is increased violence and perhaps even civil war.

Rabbi Amar Warns of Civil War

Rabbi Shlomo Amar,  the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, came out with a statement on Tuesday addressing the dire situation in Israel as a result of the pandemic, warning that the resulting social schism between the religious and sector could explode into a civil war.

 “I call from the bottom of my heart to avoid civil war,” Rabbi Ammar said, emphasizing that violence desecrates the name of God. “People feel deprived that demonstrations are allowed and a synagogue is forbidden. What we have been seeing lately are demonstrations from all sorts of directions, from all sorts of circles. To raise a hand against another person, God forbid, it is not suitable for a Jew, and easy and material son of the son of easy and material for a Torah man.

Newly appointed Minister of Communication, Likud member David Amsalem, with Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, during a ceremony of installing a Mezuzah at the Communications Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 10, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

“The truth is clear that those who [were violent] that have become ‘loosened’, may God will strengthen them. This is not suitable for students who learn Torah.”

“Even if they come to demonstrate with dignity and honor, when they see people among them who do such things that desecrate the name of God, the Torah becomes desecrated. Students of the Torah should immediately go away so that there will be no desecration of God’s name or honor.”

“Those in charge of the police and the army, too, need to take care and be clear on how much care must be taken with respect to human dignity and not to allow the policeman a free hand to do as they please.”  

According to Rabbi Amar, the cause of unrest in the ultra-Orthodox community is the feeling of discrimination. While secular political demonstrations are allowed to take place on a regular basis, religious gatherings are prohibited, sometimes with a heavy hand by the police.

“The problem is that people feel discrimination, they say there are demonstrations and there is no reaction. Yet we are not allowed to go to the synagogues. People feel that they are left without prayer. There are many who do not know how to prya without a synagogue , without a community, without a cantor.” 

“I am not saying to disregard the regulations of the Ministry of Health. As the Torah says, ‘And you shall very much protect your souls/lives.’ But there must be found a way to open the synagogues, at least to some degree, with people being separated into different sections of the buildings. If the needs of the people are understood, the problems will end. Even in yeshivas (Torah institutions). It is impossible to block the learning so that there will be no Torah. Lives must be preserved so ways must be found to accomplish these goals. It is possible to share a dining room or a library, to learn and eat in shifts. But we shouldn’t say that everything is forbidden. This is not the way, but under no circumstances should the situation deteriorate. The controversy could lead to bloodshed, God forbid.”

Conflict Between Church and State in New York

This conflict between church and state in New York resulted in a Supreme Court battle that pitted New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn as well as two Orthodox Jewish synagogues. The religious groups charge that the regulations violate their freedom of religion, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. It added that their institutions were unfairly singled out for more strict limitations than essential businesses were, including food stores. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the religious groups.