Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman angered chareidi Knesset members on Wednesday, when he invoked the names of great rabbis who studied non-religious subjects in addition to Torah. Liberman spoke during a Knesset speech on a private bill to require core curriculum studies for all pupils and cancel exemptions for chareidi institutions.
“Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, I don’t know if everyone knows him, the Vilna Gaon, studied astronomy and mathematics in his free time. When he was asked why he studied these topics, he replied that it helped him to understand our religious sources,” Liberman said.
“Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, studied at the University of Berlin and earned a doctorate, he mastered several languages and served in the US Navy as an electrical engineer and was a great rabbi. The degrees did not interfere with his spiritual education. Therefore, everything you [chareidi Knesset members] teach is a lie,” he charged.
MK Yinon Azoulay from Shas then came to the podium to speak and responded sharply to Liberman’s criticism, stating that , “The head of Yisrael Beytenu stood here earlier and talked about the Vilna Gaon. You ignoramus from Moldova, you have no right to talk about the Vilna Gaon. You don’t know who the Vilna Gaon is. You should be ashamed of yourself. When you become like Maimonides, you will be able to preach to us. Who are you? Who are you to preach to us? You stand here all day and incite.”
Yisrael Beytenu later responded to Azoulay and said, “The racism and hatred spread by Shas is intolerable. You have no ownership of Judaism.”
Journalist Yael Zin later said that even though Azoulay’s statements were unacceptable, Liberman himself has yet to apologize for stating during his tenure as Finance Minister that the “Chareidim should be taken by wheelbarrow to the garbage”.