A popular rabbi at a prominent ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem issued a retraction over the weekend after reports surfaced Thursday that he had called for the killing of government ministers.
Rabbi Nissan Kaplan of the Mir Yeshiva, one of the largest and most prestigious yeshivas in the world, told a class of students in a March lecture that ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman viewed the Israeli government as Amalek (the Biblical enemy of Israel whom the Jews are commanded to destroy), and sanctioned killing those who called for yeshiva students to enlist in the IDF.
Kaplan also related how, after he told Steinman’s opinion to his young son, the boy was ready to go “looking for a sword to kill all these government ministers.”
“You have to take a sword and to kill them,” Kaplan was recorded saying in the lecture, claiming to quote Steinman. “So why are we not doing it? Because, he said, I don’t know yet who is the [suitable replacement] general who could run the war. But if I would know who’s the general, we’d go out with knives. This is what Rav Steinman said. There’s a war against religion.”
After the story began attracting media attention over the weekend, Kaplan posted a response, in which he said that it is clear that “it is forbidden to kill people,” even if “they want to take bochrim [yeshiva students] to the army.”
Tensions between the government and the ultra-Orthodox population have deepened of late over the current government’s legislation for mandatory IDF or national service for yeshiva students, who have traditionally been exempted.
Kaplan said people “hear what they want to hear” and that it was a Torah scholar’s job to “sit and learn” and nothing more, and added that all the great scholars of Israel have said it is forbidden to take a life.
The rabbi, who originally hails from the US, told the Jewish Chronicle Online over the weekend that he had “never meant such a thing” and said that the story about his child was “a joke.”
Kaplan said that he apologized completely for his statements, and had distanced himself from them in subsequent, recent classes, which, according to his website, draw upwards of 200 students.
He also said that he did not, in fact, hear directly the statements which he had attributed to Steinman, a leading rabbinic figure in Israel.
“Maybe someone in the street said it,” Kaplan said according to the British paper. “I didn’t see Rabbi Steinman and I didn’t hear [this view]…The one I really have to apologize to is Rabbi Steinman.”