Notre Dame Fire May Be Divine Punishment, Says Prominent Settler Rabbi

Urging 'God-fearing Jews' to refrain from grieving, leading religious-Zionist figure invokes 13th-century Talmud book burning as possible reason for the devastating blaze

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019
Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019Credit: Thierry Mallet,AP
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

The conflagration at Notre Dame de Paris that badly damaged the ancient cathedral on Monday was possibly divine punishment, an influential Israeli rabbi said on Wednesday, invoking a 13th-century burning of Jewish scriptures.

Addressing the in a Q&A article published on religious- Israeli news website Srugim, -born Shlomo Aviner, now the rabbi of Beit El, also said it is a mitzvah - a deed done from religious dutyto set fire to churches in Israel, but warned that shouldn't be done anyway, because they would then have to be rebuilt.

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File photo: Rabbi Shlomo Aviner poses for a photo at the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism award ceremony, Jerusalem, May 12, 2010.
File photo: Rabbi Shlomo Aviner poses for a photo at the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism award ceremony, Jerusalem, May 12, 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Asked if the fire at Notre Dame was cause for grief, Aviner said "that isn't our function at this time. There is no command to seek out churches beyond Israel and burn them down. In our holy land, things are more complicated. Indeed the wrote that one of his reasons against immigration to Israel is that here the command to burn churches applies but it isn't exercised," and therefore being in Israel without burning churches is prohibited.

He added that the rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher said that building churches, "which we'll have to do" should they be burnt, is a greater offense than leaving them as is.

Gadi Gvariyahu of the , which monitors  in Israel and the and promotes interfaith dialogue, called Aviner's remarks "sad, angering and shocking."

"If an influential rabbi says 'there is no command to seek out Christian churches abroad and burn them down but in our holy land, the issue is more complicated' – what will the extreme right be likely to do?" Gvariyahu added.

Firefighters work at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 17, 2019.
Firefighters work at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 17, 2019.Credit: Francisco Seco/AP

The American Jewish Committee said in a tweet that Aviner's comments "are repulsive and un-Jewish."

At first, Aviner pulled back from explicitly calling the fire a punishment from heaven. However, when answering the question "So it can't be said that it was punishment?" the rabbi wrote, "It is possible, after all. The first big Talmud burning was in Paris, there in the plaza of the Notre Dame Cathedral."

Aviner said it was a result of the Paris trial, "In which Jewish sages in France of that generation were forced into confrontation with the Christian sages. The result was the . The Talmud books were brought to the Note Dame square in 20 wagons … and were burned there, meaning, 1,200 Tamlud books."

Answering a question about displeasing non-Jews by failing to demonstrate grief at the cathedral fire, Aviner wrote, "That is no reason to grovel. … Rabbis must remain faithful to the truth. Every God-fearing Jew must adhere to the truth."

French President said on Tuesday that the , hopefully within five years. Hundreds of millions of euros have already been pledged by business leaders and companies for the reconstruction of the iconic 12th-century church.

Also on Tuesday, Israeli President extended sympathy to France, tweeting," Our hearts are with the people of #France and the legends of @notredameparis, real and fictional, and we pray it will stand in eternity."

Prime Minister said in a tweet he expresses his "deep sorrow over the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a cultural and religious heritage site of France and of all humanity."

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