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After battle, capital to name street for iconoclast Leibowitz

City pushes through measure to honor controversial professor, defying religious politicians unhappy with statements about Shas spiritual leader

Yeshayahu Leibowitz (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Municipality approved a motion to name a street for the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz Thursday, ending a lengthy battle over honoring the controversial philosopher and iconoclast.

The proposal to honor Leibowitz, first raised a decade ago, had passed two municipal naming committees and was supposed to receive final approval earlier this month, but Likud councilman Elisha Peleg began reading out quotes by Leibowitz attacking Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, raising the ire of the religious council members, and leading Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to remove the vote from the agenda for fear of it failing.

While left-wing council members defended the decision to name a street after Leibowitz, who was religious, Barkat decided to postpone the vote until more council members were present and chances were increased of getting the motion passed. That was achieved Thursday.

The municipality is expected to finally commemorate the professor, who died in 1994, by naming a street in his honor near The Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus.

“It’s been a long time since I have raised the request, but thankfully, everyone understood its importance,” Meretz council member Yosef (Pepe) Alalu, who for years fought to commemorate Leibowitz, told the NRG website Thursday.

“Leibowitz was a man of education, science, health, and, above all — a prophet who set his teachings before many of us,” Alalu said. “I hope there will be no last-minute surprises.”

Leibowitz, a polymath who also served as the editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia, managed to spark endless controversy during his years in the media spotlight — regularly issuing provocative statements on the topics of ethics, religion, and politics, staunchly advocating a separation of religion and state. He also urged that Israel relinquish territory captured in the 1967 war, famously calling Israeli settlers “Judeo-Nazis.”

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