On Wednesday, Education Minister and Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett paid a shiva visit to Shas spiritual head Rabbi Shalom Cohen to console him over the recent loss of his wife.
The two discussed Rabbi Cohen’s experiences during the Israeli War of Independence, and Cohen’s escape, along with other residents, from the Old City of Jerusalem when it fell to Jordanian forces in 1948.
Rabbi Cohen also recalled the amazement when Israeli forces liberated the Old City from Jordanian occupation 19 years later.
“We were like dreamers. No one believed that we would return to the Jewish Quarter [of the Old City].”
Rabbi Cohen also discussed Jewish unity – even in the face of stark political differences, using a personal anecdote from his youth.
“When I was a young man, once it happened to me that a person beat me for no reason – and afterwards I saw him in synagogue. It was very hard for me to bless him during Birkat Kohanim, so I went out. But after a few minutes I changed my mind and went back in, to bless him out of love, because that’s what God commands us. If it’s not out of love, it is forbidden for us to bless Birkat Kohanim.”
“You should know,” he continued, “that I’ve always strengthen [the feeling] of loving every Jew as he is. And certainly that includes the national-religious community. Even if at times what I said sounded harsh, it’s coming from love.”
In 2013 Rabbi Cohen referred to national-religious Jews as “the people of Amalek”. A clarification issued later claimed his comments were not directed at the entire national-religious sector, rather only the leadership of the Jewish Home party and their followers, “who have declared war upon the war of Torah and the yeshivot.”
Two years later, Cohen referred to Jewish Home supporters as gentiles, calling the party “A home without Jews.”