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Chabad Rabbis Rip ‘Gallows’ Talk

Johanna Ginsberg – New Jersey Jewish News

Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe

Local Chabad rabbis are distancing themselves from the comments of an Israeli Chabad rabbi who last week said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli officials should be “hanged from the gallows.”

The remarks by Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe led to widespread condemnation in Israel and calls on the attorney general to open an investigation into whether the remarks constitute incitement. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued a statement, saying the Jan. 1 remarks “are beyond the pale of legitimate democratic protest and have no basis in Jewish law or hashkafa [philosophy].”

The remarks also shone an unwelcome light on Chabad-Lubavitch, the hasidic movement perhaps best known in the United States for its outreach to non-Orthodox Jews in suburban communities.

Local Chabad leaders insisted Wolpe spoke for no one but himself.

“I find that totally unacceptable language for a Chabad representative,” said Rabbi Mendy Herson of Chabad Jewish Center of Basking Ridge. “Whatever one’s views on Prime Minister Olmert’s strategy, there are many concerned Jews who would find troubling that kind of language. In his mind, he must have seen himself as an individual, but not as a Chabad representative.

“I can’t believe the rebbe ever allowing it,” added Herson, referring to the late Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Wolpe made his remarks in Tel Aviv, addressing supporters of SOS Israel, an organization he heads that opposes the transfer of parts of the West Bank or Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority.

“The terrible traitor, [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert, who gives these Nazis weapons, who gives money, who frees their murderous terrorists, this man, like Ariel Sharon, collaborates with the Nazis,” he said.

He continued, “[Olmert’s punishment] and the punishment of [Vice Premier] Haim Ramon, and the punishment of [Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni, and all these people, like [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak, should be to hang from the gallows.”

Wolpe later said he meant the Israeli leaders deserved execution not by vigilantes but under the legal system for collaborating with Israel’s enemies.

Most of the local Chabad rabbis contacted said they heard about the statement, widely reported in the Israeli press, first from New Jersey Jewish News. They had not been questioned by supporters regarding Wolpe’s comments.

“It’s a bizarre statement to make. I totally disassociate myself from any such statement. It’s just irresponsible, said Rabbi Asher Herson of the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey in Rockaway. “Obviously, I have concerns about the decisions being made now, but that kind of statement is off the wall.”

Wolpe is well known as a right-wing firebrand in Israel as well as a representative of a faction within the Chabad movement that believes Schneerson to be the Messiah.

Just last week, New York State’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of two of Chabad’s three main bodies in its legal battle with a Lubavitch congregation representing the “messianist” faction. The organizations won the right to eject the congregation from the worldwide headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Rabbi Moshe Herson of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown did not return phone calls on the matter.