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N.Y. Congregation Ousts Rabbi Who Called for Rabin’s Death

Just days after a right-wing Jew gunned down Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the name of God, the Brooklyn rabbi who said Jewish law permitted such an act is apparently being ousted from his pulpit.

Members of Shaare Zion Congregation have decided to ask Rabbi Abraham Hecht to resign, Ambassador Colette Avital, Israeli consul general in New York, said Wednesday.

She said the effort is now being made to carry out the decision by notifying Hecht, who is “hiding in Miami.”

Officials of the synagogue either were not available to confirm the firing or were not able to do so.

Hecht’s secretary said he has been out of town “for some time” and said she was unaware of any pending ouster.

At a June news conference, Hecht made headlines when he said that by conceding land for peace, Israeli leaders fall into the category of “moser,” or people who betray Jews to gentiles.

According to Maimonides, Hecht said, such people not only deserve the death penalty, but should be killed before they can perform the deed.

In late October, Hecht, the president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, penned a letter to Rabin expressing regret for his earlier statement. The alliance is a group of a few hundred fervently Orthodox rabbis.

Jews “must speak and act toward each other as we would toward God,” he wrote. “For my part, I wish to repudiate any words and actions of anger and which have caused hurt.”

Avital said she had been telephoned about the congregation’s decision to fire Hecht by Jack Avital, a member of the community.

Ironically, Jack Avital, who is not related to the ambassador, was the man who allegedly punched Israeli Cultural Minister Shulamit Aloni during the Israel Day Parade in New York in the spring.

Colette Avital rejected any allegations that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was behind Hecht’s dismissal.

“The Foreign Ministry is not in charge of appointing or firing rabbis,” she said.

At the same time, Avital said, she has been in touch frequently with members of Hecht’s largely Syrian congregation who had stepped forward “to express their regrets” after the rabbi’s inflammatory pronouncements in June.

She said it was the congregants’ concern that prompted the letter by Hecht repudiating these remarks, which he wrote to Rabin on Oct. 23.

One of the other rabbis at Hecht’s synagogue, who asked not to be identified, said there had been several closed-door meetings of the congregation’s executive committee since Rabin’s assassination Saturday night.

Although he was not invited to attend the meetings, he said it was clear the congregation had been concerned about the “public relations aspect” of the matter.

Many in the community were “very upset about the comments” after they were made in June and “did not identify at all with the sentiments of Rabbi Hecht,” said the rabbi, who was not aware that the synagogue officials had made any decision about Hecht’s post.

He said that even though there were no public protests against Hecht’s remarks, “there were many private remarks made to him” by upset congregants.

Other sources belonging to or close to the congregation who refused to be identified said that since the killing, the community had been seeking a way to dissociate itself from Hecht and his remarks and repair the “damage done to the synagogue’s reputation.”

“They wanted to clear their name,” said one.

“Better late than never,” said Avital when asked whether she found the forced resignation a meaningful action in the wake of the prime minister’s death.

She said she was more concerned about “what kind of education the new rabbi will give to the congregation” about “respect for human life, mixing in domestic Israeli affairs and the support for a legitimately elected democratic government.”

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood of Hecht and his synagogue, known as Ocean Parkway, one neighbor said she was surprised to hear about efforts to fire him.

The neighborhood is an eclectic mix of monied Sephardi families who occupy narrow but grand houses that line the main boulevard, and recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who live in large apartment buildings nearby.

“He is very, very nice,” said the woman, who emigrated 15 years ago from Lebanon and has been a congregant of Hecht’s since she arrived. “I don’t think he should be fired for this.”

“I heard he did s’lach li,” she said, using the Hebrew words for “I apologize.”

She noted that Rabin’s confessed killer had made several assassination attempts prior to Saturday.

“It wasn’t because Rabbi Hecht said anything.”

Meanwhile, sticking out of Hecht’s home mailbox on Wednesday, was the most recent issue of the Jewish Press, with bold blue headlines blaring, “World Mourns Death of Rabin.

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