Jun 30, 2022
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Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Safed and a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, sent a formal letter of rebuke to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The rabbi opened by referring to a statement made by Bennett last Monday in which he accused critics of his coalition with the Arab parties led by Mansour Abbas of “burning barns.”

This was a reference to the period in 68 CE when Roman Emperor Vespasian laid siege to Jerusalem. At the time, Jerusalem had the wherewithal to withstand a protracted siege; its ‘barns’ were overflowing with enough provisions to feed the population for no less than 21 years. The Zealots preferred an immediate conflict over a siege and set fire to the barns. Their actions brought starvation to the city.

Rabbi Eliyahu disagreed with the prime minister:

Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

“Mr. Prime Minister, I heard what you said about the danger of divisions and the burning of barns that destroyed the kingdom of Israel and sent us into exile of two thousand years,” Rabbi Eliyahu wrote. “You said you think controversy is a national danger to lives. Because of the formation of a government that you believed would cure the fragmentation of Israeli society. For that, you agreed to make difficult moves in the hope that the religious, ultra-Orthodox, and others will join you, and there will truly be unification and unity.”

“Unfortunately, the reverse happened,” Rabbi Eliyahu wrote. He referred to an incident in March when Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman vowed to “put  former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties into a wheelbarrow and throw them in a garbage dump.” 

“MK Yulia Malinowski wants to destroy the rabbinate,” Rabbi Eliyahu added. “Now a deputy minister in the government  [Meretz MK Yair Golan ] is comparing Benjamin Netanyahu to a ‘malignant disease.’  What person would agree to sit in such a government?”

Rabbi Eliyahu reminded Bennett that when first entering the Knesset in 2019, Golan referred to the right-wing as “Nazis.”

“These dangerous things are heard in all the media,” Rabbi Eliyahu wrote. “But most of all, your silence and that of all your friends in government are heard. I hope you do not think like him, but some people will surely interpret your silence as an admission of his words. Otherwise, it is impossible to understand how the State Attorney’s Office violated all the rules of law to accuse Netanyahu. Only if you understand that they look at it as something worse than a malignant disease do you understand their behavior.”

Rabbi Eliyahu warned Bennett that such divisiveness might result in a civil war, just as burning barns in the time of Vespasian did.

“I appeal to you. To Ayelet Shaked, Matan Kahana, Nir Orbach, Zeev Elkin, Gideon Saar, and the other friends. Someone here is burning barns, and he is sitting in your government. When he tries to uproot us, the malignant growth – there will be a civil war here. Stop before it’s too late. You can stop; it’s time to go back to sanity. You have done a lot for the People of Israel; you know how to recalculate a route. It’s time to fix; you can fix, you must fix.”