Daniel Albu

Shift & Shake: Jewish Terrorism from Hills to the Big Apple Skyscrapers

American-born Israeli rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, president of the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar, speaks at a Chabad conference in Tel Aviv, on December 2, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

On Oct. 16, 2019, masked settlers from Yitzhar and its surrounding outposts assaulted Israeli and American-Jewish activists who were assisting Palestinians with their olive harvest, among them an 80-year-old rabbi, Od Yosef Chai President Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a Missouri-born ultra-Orthodox rabbi who has amassed a dedicated and extensive following over the course of his career. His students and acolytes have been at the forefront of promoting and carrying out violence against Palestinians over the past decade. It is largely thanks to the teachings of Ginsburgh and his deputies, and the violence they have encouraged, that Yitzhar has become known as one of the most extreme of the radical settlements.

The Od Yosef Chai yeshiva came to the attention of the media firstly in 2009 when Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, head of the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, co-authored a book titled “The King’s Torah” that offered religious justification for killing non-Jews who pose a threat to Jews. The book caused controversy and drew media attention, with some calling for Shapira’s arrest. The Israeli government condemned the book, and some government ministries that had previously provided support and funding to the yeshiva stopped doing so.

In 2010, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the torching of a mosque in the northern West Bank Palestinian town of Yasuf, although he was later released due to lack of evidence. In 2011, the Israeli government cracked down on the yeshiva and its rabbis, including Shapira, for promoting extremist views and inciting violence.

The book and its contents have been widely criticized by many in the Jewish community, including Reform Judaism, which called it “simply evil”. The controversy surrounding the book and the actions of Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira have contributed to the negative reputation of the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva and its association with extremism and violence.

In addition, the yeshiva has also been connected with some radical actions

Some examples of radical actions allegedly or possibly taken by Od Yosef Chai yeshiva students include:

  • Involvement in the murder of a Palestinian woman: Five students from the yeshiva were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the murder of a Palestinian woman.

  • Violent acts against Arabs and Israeli security services: The yeshiva has been linked to violent acts against Arabs and Israeli security services, with evidence suggesting that the students were perpetrating these acts with the active support of the yeshiva’s rabbis.

  • Promoting and carrying out violence against Palestinians: Students and followers of Od Yosef Chai President Yitzchak Ginsburgh have been at the forefront of promoting and carrying out violence against Palestinians over the past decade.

  • Connection to the “price tag” attack policy: Some of the young activists who carry out “price tag” attacks, which involve acts of violence and vandalism against Palestinians and their property, are students of the rabbis who head the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva.

The spiritual figurehead of the yeshiva and the settlement is Od Yosef Chai President Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a Missouri-born ultra-Orthodox rabbi who has amassed a dedicated and extensive following over the course of his career. His students and acolytes have been at the forefront of promoting and carrying out violence against Palestinians over the past decade. And despite the condemnations made from the top ranks of government when another assault or inciteful publication is traced back to Ginsburgh’s yeshiva, it continues to operate — all while receiving a modest yearly sum from the local regional council.

“All who knew Baruch [Goldstein] felt he acted out of his Jewish character… This was not the reaction of an ignorant Jew — which should also be blessed — but of a learned and model man.”

This was Ginsburgh’s reaction to the massacre at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs in February 1994, in which the Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Muslim worshipers before being beaten to death after his rifle jammed. Ginsburgh penned his assessment in “Baruch HaGever” (‘Baruch the Man/Blessed is the Man’), a collection of essays and eulogies published the year after the attack.

Like many of the book’s contributors, Ginsburgh presents Goldstein’s terrorism as a testament to his value as a human being, inseparable from his career as a doctor, and as an example of righteous violence with deep theological rationale and justification. Drawing on an array of Jewish scripture, Ginsburgh framed the mass-murder as at once an act of Jewish preservation; a strike against “evil” (in which Palestinians are rendered as the current incarnation of Amalek, the biblical enemies of the Israelites); and an effort to safeguard the Land of Israel for the Jewish people.

At the heart of Ginsburgh’s ideology is the acceptability and morality of Jewish violence against non-Jews. Underpinning this, as the Israeli professor of religion Motti Inbari has written, is his conception of non-Jews as effectively “subhuman”— meaning that the commandment “You shall not kill,” which relates to humans, applies only to Jews.

This interpretation of the Ten Commandments informed another notorious publication to emerge from Yitzhar, this time by Ginsburgh followers Yosef Elitzur and Yitzhak Shapira — the latter of whom heads the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva. Their 2009 volume, “Torat Hamelech” (“The King’s Torah”), similarly argued that the sin of murder only applied to Jewish-on-Jewish violence, and explicitly permitted the killing of non-Jewish children and babies if, they wrote, “it is clear they will grow to harm us.” That book, like “Baruch HaGever,” earned its authors indictments for incitement to racism and violence, but no prosecution resulted.

In a separate incident several years later, Elitzur earned a further indictment for incitement to violence after publishing an article on the far-right news site HaKol HaYehudi run out of Yitzhar. The article set out guidelines that would develop into what came to be known as “price tag” attacks, a term given to hate crimes and violence carried out by Israeli extremists against anyone deemed to be jeopardizing the settlement project, including Palestinians and left-wing Israeli activists. The editors of HaKol HaYehudi have also been hauled up on similar charges.

Worst Than Disaster

The darkest part of the story begins when the Ginsburgh’s disciples decide to abandon the common isolation among the Orthodox and spread themselves among key sectors of society, including the military, the police, and the political environment. As a case, Rabbi Shai Daum, one of the well-known disciples of Ginsburgh, served as the rabbi of the 97th Netzah Yehuda Battalion, previously known as Nahal Haredi, where Haredi youth with religious ideas prone to radicalism came to socialize in the “melting pot” of the army, but paradoxically, thanks to Rabbi Shai Daum sermons, they would become radical elements for the rest of their lives. It has been several years since Rabbi Shai Daum migrated from the isolation of Yitzhar to Tel Aviv (the Big Apple), as he said in an interview with HaKol HaYehudi newspaper, in order to try the bigger space to promote his beliefs and attract more young victims to it.

The creeping out of the Jewish terrorism ideas, including Kahanism and Ginsburghism, from the isolation of settlements to the main population centers and key sections of society is a threat that has been placed on the agenda of the Jewish radicalism leaders during the last decade. Threat whose initial results are clearly visible nowadays and no end can be imagined for its more horrific damages in the future.

About the Author
Daniel Albu is a father, photographer and freelance journalist living and working in New York.
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