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Religious affairs minister says death threats causing him ‘a wretched feeling’

‘We already know where this leads,’ Matan Kahana warns after reportedly being threatened with kabbalistic death curse

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana said on Saturday that recent death threats against him, including religious edicts invoking his death, have given him “a wretched feeling.”

Kahana has faced threats as he pushes ahead with profound reforms of Israel’s religious services that are deeply unpopular with the country’s ultra-Orthodox community.

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

He has been assigned additional security in recent days due to threats against him, including din rodef and pulsa dinura religious edicts.

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.

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.

Activists performing a “Pulsa Dinura” against Yitzhak Rabin shortly before his death in 1995. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

When asked about the two edicts issued against him, Kahana told Channel 12, “It doesn’t make me happy.”

“It is absolutely not going to stop me from advancing the things I believe in, strengthening Israel’s Jewish character,” he said. “The problem with the din rodef is that we already know where it leads.”

He stressed that it was “fine and legitimate” to oppose him and that “99 percent of the people against me adhere to the law.” But when there is rhetoric saying, “We must do anything to stop him,” and a din rodef, eventually an extremist could “take it seriously,” he said.

“We need to be cautious about how we talk,” he added.

“It’s a wretched feeling because after 30 years as a combat soldier in the IDF, when my enemy was our enemy, and I knew who they were, now, to hear there are threats from Jewish Israeli citizens, it really saddens me.”

When asked if he believed in the pulsa dinura, Kahana said, “I don’t know enough about it.”

He said he had not received threats directly, but the Shin Bet internal security service said there were concrete threats against him.

Among Kahana’s plans is to overhaul Israel’s kashrut supervision process, revamp local religious councils to ensure more roles for women, reform the vexatious issue of conversions to Judaism, and enable the ultra-Orthodox community to more easily enter the workforce.

The threats against Kahana appear to be part of a scathing, months-long online campaign launched against Kahana’s Yamina party for joining the new government that ousted Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 consecutive years in power.

Netanyahu’s Likud and allied factions have accused Yamina of betraying the right in joining a coalition that includes other right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, plus an Islamist faction.

Earlier this month, coalition whip MK Idit Silman, also from Yamina, filed a formal complaint with the Knesset Guard after she said she was physically attacked by a man at a gas station in the central city of Modiin. Netanyahu and other opposition figures called her account into question.

In June, as the final details of the coalition agreement that ousted Netanyahu were being negotiated, Silman claimed that she had been followed by another vehicle while driving.

At the time, Bennett and Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, who is the interior minister, both received increased security following threats.

Meretz member Tamar Zandberg, the environment protection minister, was forced to flee her home at one point due to threats made against her and her daughter.

A group of prominent rabbis affiliated with the national-religious movement issued a call on Sunday for protest against the government over its policies on religion and state, partly due to Kahan’s planned reforms.

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