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Man indicted for death threat against minister over religious reforms

Suspect, in his 50s, called Matan Kahana’s office and warned he will ‘end up like Rabin’

Religious Affairs Minster Matan Kahana in Meron, northern Israel, on January 4, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Religious Affairs Minster Matan Kahana in Meron, northern Israel, on January 4, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A man was arrested and charged Thursday for threatening Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana that he will suffer the same fate as assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israel Police said in a statement.

Kahana was recently provided additional security due to threats he has received over his plans to reform issues of state and religion, weakening ultra-Orthodox hegemony in many places. His intentions have drawn criticism from ultra-Orthodox leaders, among them Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau.

The suspect, who is in his 50s, is a resident of the southern port city of Ashkelon. The indictment for making threats was filed at the city’s magistrates’ court, police said.

An investigation was opened on Wednesday night after a complaint was filed over threats to harm an elected official, police said.

According to the indictment, on Wednesday morning at around 11 am, the suspect used his cell phone to call Kahana’s office and told a worker to pass on a message to the minister saying “tell him to stop harming the Rabbinate or rabbis, I am telling you, in the end, he will end up like Rabin. Someone will take him down because he is harming the rabbis and the Rabbinate.”

The man also accused Kahana, who is Orthodox, of only wearing religious garb for show.

“Swift investigation activities” led to the identification of the suspect and his address, leading to his arrest, police said. The suspect’s remand was extended until a further decision is taken in the case

As part of plans to make deep changes in state-controlled Jewish religious services, Kahana announced earlier this week that conversions to Judaism will be headed by Rabbi Benayahu Brunner, who is affiliated with Tzohar, a group of relatively liberal Orthodox rabbis. The move prompted outrage from Haredi lawmakers and religious leaders.

Kahana’s decision came despite a threat from Lau, the chief rabbi, that he would not approve any future conversions to Judaism as long as the government continues to advance a plan to ease the process and dilute the Chief Rabbinate’s control over it.

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau attends a ceremony of the Israeli police for the Jewish new year at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, on September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Tuesday, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni slammed the appointment of Brunner as akin to “placing an idol in the Temple.”

Kahana responded to Gafni on Wednesday morning, defending Brunner and saying he would not be bullied on the matter.

The spat over conversions came after the first phase of a major overhaul of Israel’s kosher certification industry came into effect on Sunday, paving the way to greater competition and a weaker Chief Rabbinate monopoly over the matter.

The reform, spearheaded by Kahana, will eventually enable private organizations to provide supervision services — with oversight by the Rabbinate — starting in 2023.

Kahana, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, says his initiatives are aimed at strengthening Israel’s Jewish character.

Around the end of November, he was assigned additional security due to threats against him, including din rodef and pulsa dinura religious edicts justifying harm against him.

The Talmudic din rodef, or “law of the pursuer” edict, allows for the extrajudicial killing of a person who represents a grave threat. The Haaretz daily said an extremist group had issued the order against Kahana.

An unnamed security source told the paper it was the most serious security threat against a politician since a din rodef was issued against former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin before his assassination by a Jewish religious extremist gunman in November 1995.

The pulsa dinura is a kabbalistic death curse that translates to “lashes of fire” in Aramaic. The ritual invoking divine retribution has a shadowy past in Jewish mysticism and Israeli politics. A group of right-wing extremists performed the ritual against Rabin barely a month before his death, and another group claimed to have done the same six months before former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s collapse.

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