Top yeshivah rabbi apologises for 'kill ministers' lecture

Mir Yeshivah in Jerusalem

Mir Yeshivah in Jerusalem

A rabbi from Israel’s leading strictly-Orthodox yeshivah has apologised for saying that Israel’s government ministers deserve death.

Nissan Kaplan, a rabbi at the prestigious Mir Yeshivah, whose classes draw upwards of 200 students, said in a recent discourse on the weekly Torah portion that he not only advocates killing ministers, but also that he educates his children in this spirit.

He told students that his five-year-old son said: “Daddy, we don't have a sword in the house, I'm looking... maybe a hammer is also good? I was very happy, I gave him a kiss... I was so proud of my son, he's looking for a sword to kill all these government ministers.”

His logic was that because the government plans to draft the strictly-Orthodox to the army, its ministers are the modern equivalent of Haman, who tried to kill the Jews in the Purim story. They are also representatives of “Amalek”, the ancient foe of the Jews whose elimination is prescribed by the Bible. He claimed to be invoking proclamations of the Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of the best-respected Charedi rabbis today, in this assertion.

But the US-born rabbi told the JC on Friday: “I apologise completely,” adding that an “apology is not enough” and that he had disavowed his earlier statements in three classes on Thursday night and Friday.

He “never meant such a thing”. The story about his son was “just a joke” he claimed, saying: “You have to know my sense of humour.”

And while rabbis tend to encourage students to be punctilious about accurately attributing opinions, he suggested that he had assigned Rabbi Shteinman’s alleged opinion to him without justification. “Maybe someone in the street said it. I didn’t see Rabbi Shteinman and I didn’t hear [this view],” he said, adding: “The one I really have to apologise to is Rabbi Shteinman.”

Asked about violent acts against ministers, Rabbi Kaplan said: “It is an aveira [sin] to do such a thing” and said that faced with the draft of Charedi men “the only thing we can do is learn [Torah] — we don’t hit and we don’t fight”. His apology is unambiguous, he said, calling it a “black and white” matter.

But despite requests, he did not fully explain the dissonance between what he said in the original class and what he claims now to be his view. He gave only general comments such as: “Sometimes when you are sitting, something was said in the wrong way” and “maybe someone got me excited here.”

His intended message, he claimed, was to underscore the importance of Torah study. “The message is that learning is of key importance and there are things that the people of Israel gave up all these years for learning. The meaning was not that we have to fight, God forbid.”

Last updated: 5:06pm, May 16 2014