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Tchernichovsky sparks currency row

PM’s brother-in-law calls for boycott of 50 shekel note featuring poet who intermarried; others less fazed

Itamar Sharon is a news editor at The Times of Israel

The front of the newly designed NIS 50 banknote (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The front of the newly designed NIS 50 banknote (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Several religious figures have criticized the Bank of Israel’s decision to feature renowned Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky on newly minted NIS 50 notes, citing his marriage to a Christian woman.

Dr. Hagai Ben-Artzi, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara, said last week that the use of the Russian-born poet’s image on the bill was “an outrage.”

“Shaul Tchernichovsky has become a symbol of assimilation, of assimilation ideology,” he said, according to Israel National News. “It is inconceivable that such a person, as important a poet as he may be, should become a symbol in the state of Israel.”

Tchernichovsky was married to Russian-born Christian Melania Karlova, with whom he had a daughter, Isolda.

Ben-Artzi said he would refuse to use the new banknote, and said he hoped similar refusals by numerous other citizens would lead to its recall.

Bentzi Gopstein, director of the controversial anti-assimilation group Lehava, told the ultra-Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabat that avoiding using the new notes was unrealistic.

“I could say (that) but no one would do it,” he said, though he too lamented the use of the poet. “We should learn who the real role models are,” he added.

Earlier in September, prominent Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Aviner said Tchernichovsky’s portrait on an official bill of the Jewish state was “horribly grating.”

“Tchernichovsky was indeed an incredibly talented author and poet, and is tied to the people of Israel, but a terrible dishonor was deeply imprinted on his life, as he was married to a gentile woman, a very religious Christian,” Aviner, head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, told the NRG news website., adding that it was unthinkable that an intermarried poet should be “glorified on the nation’s banknote.”

The new NIS 50 bill is only the first of a new series of banknotes which will debut in the coming months, and will be followed by NIS 200, NIS 100 and NIS 20 notes. Instead of politicians, the Bank of Israel decided to feature Israeli poets, choosing four — one for each of the notes — and all of them of Ashkenazi background.

Following the initial announcement, political leaders and advocate groups accused the Bank of racism for ignoring poets of Middle Eastern, or Sephardi, background.

The new NIS 200 bill will bear the image of Natan Alterman, the Polish-born playwright, poet and journalist. The new NIS 20 and NIS 100 bills, will depict Rachel Bluwstein Sela (known in Israel as just Rachel) and Leah Goldנerg, respectively.

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