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Israel's Masorti (Conservative) Movement is threatening legal action against former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu for saying that "the reek of hell wafts" from Reform and Conservative synagogues, and it is therefore forbidden to walk by them.

Eliyahu, a leading religious Zionist rabbi, made the remark last week during his weekly Torah lecture. It was later reprinted in the bulletin Kol Tzofayich, which was distributed in synagogues throughout Israel over the weekend.

In his lecture, Eliyahu related that he was once invited to a circumcision in a building that contained three synagogues, one Orthodox, one Conservative and one Reform. The Orthodox synagogue, he said, was on the top floor, "and I wondered how I would enter and pass by these synagogues, from which the reek of hell wafts ... They told me that there was a sort of side kitchen through which one could go up without passing those synagogues, and I told them that I would only go up via that kitchen, and only if I would not pass the entrances to those forbidden synagogues."

Attorney Yizhar Hess, secretary general of the Masorti Movement, responded that "Rabbi Eliyahu crossed the border of good taste, and his hateful, malicious words scorned an entire community. It is inconceivable that a religious leader should use expressions that constitute a call for civil war. The rabbi would do well to retract his statements and apologize to the millions of Jews whose honor he impugned."