Netanyahu Rebuffs Israel's Chief Rabbi: Pittsburgh Victims Were Killed in a Synagogue

Rabbi David Lau refused to call the site of the massacre a synagogue because it's non-Orthodox

Netanyahu and Lau in Jerusalem, 2015
Haim Tzach/ GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting were killed in a synagogue – a rebuff to comments made a day before by Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

"Jews were killed in a synagogue. They were killed because they are Jews. The location was chosen because it is a synagogue. We must never forget that. We are one," Netanyahu said.

Rabbi David Lau came under fire on Sunday for refusing to acknowledge the massacre was carried out in a synagogue.

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The country’s ultra-Orthodox newspapers, in reporting on the event, also refused to acknowledge that it took place in a Jewish house of prayer because Tree of Life is a Conservative congregation, and they do not recognize the non-Orthodox movements.

In the interview with Makor Rishon, a newspaper popular in the Israeli Modern Orthodox community, Rabbi Lau said that “any murder of any Jew in any part of the world for being Jewish is unforgivable.” But rather than acknowledge that the crime had been carried out in a synagogue, he referred to the location as “a place with a profound Jewish flavor.”

On Monday, Netanyahu tweeted: "Jews were killed in a synagogue. They were killed because they are Jews. The location was chosen because it is a synagogue. We must never forget that. We are one."

An estimated 18 percent of American Jews are affiliated with the Conservative movement. Israel’s unwillingness to recognize the non-orthodox movements is a major cause of tension with Diaspora Jewry.