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Notre Dame fire 'possibly divine punishment', Israeli rabbi says

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner said the Notre Dame cathedral fire may have been divine retribution [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 April, 2019

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A prominent Israeli rabbi has sparked controversy after penning an article suggesting that Christian churches should be burnt down.

The fierce blaze which threatened to destroy Paris' Notre Dame cathedral on Monday may have been an act of divine punishment, a prominent Israeli rabbi claimed on Wednesday.

Writing in an article published by religious Zionist website Srugim, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner hinted that the accident could have been an act of divine retribution for the burning of jewish holy scriptures by medieval French monks.

"It is possible, after all," Aviner wrote in response to a question asking whether the fire may have been a punishment from God. "The first big Talmud burning was in Paris, there in the plaza of the Notre Dame Cathedral."

The event Aviner referred to was the 1240 Disputation of Paris, during which Jewish leaders were forced to defend the Talmud against claims that it was anti-Christian. The controversy resulted in the burning of over a thousand volumes of the Talmud, as well as other Jewish holy texts in 1242.

The French-born cleric, who is also the rabbi of a West Bank settlement, added that Jews need not be saddened by the fire which destroyed much of the 856-year-old church.

In perhaps his most incendiary comments of the article, Aviner also said that setting fire to churches in Israel is a religious duty, or a mitzvah. This, however, should be avoided, as the rebuilding of churches that would follow would be a greater offence, he added.

Aviner's words have sparked outrage from Jewish organisations around the world, which have rushed to condemn the prominent right-winger's remarks.

In a tweet on Wednesday, The American Jewish Committee slammed Aviner's comments as "repulsive and un-Jewish".

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