Moshe Levinger

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Rabbi Moshe Levinger, 2005 Rabbi levinger.jpg
Rabbi Moshe Levinger, 2005

Moshe Levinger (Hebrew : משה לוינגר; 1935 – May 16, 2015) was an Israeli Religious Zionist activist and an Orthodox Rabbi who, since 1967, had been a leading figure in the movement to settle Jews in the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. He is especially known for leading Jewish settlement in Hebron in 1968, and for being one of the principals of the now defunct [1] settler movement Gush Emunim, founded in 1974, among whose ranks he assumed legendary status. Levinger was reportedly involved in violent acts against Palestinians. [2]

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel; the modern version of which is spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

Religious Zionism ideology combining political zionism with the Jewish faith

Religious Zionism is an ideology that combines Zionism and Orthodox Judaism.

Orthodox Judaism Traditionalist branches of Judaism

Orthodox Judaism is a collective term for the traditionalist branches of contemporary Judaism. Theologically, it is chiefly defined by regarding the Torah, both Written and Oral, as literally revealed by God on Mount Sinai and faithfully transmitted ever since. Orthodox Judaism therefore advocates a strict observance of Jewish Law, or Halakha, which is to be interpreted and determined only according to traditional methods and in adherence to the continuum of received precedent through the ages. It regards the entire halakhic system as ultimately grounded in immutable revelation, essentially beyond external and historical influence. More than any theoretical issue, obeying the dietary, purity, ethical, and other laws of Halakha is the hallmark of Orthodoxy. Other key doctrines include belief in a future resurrection of the dead, divine reward and punishment for the righteous and the sinners, the Election of Israel, and an eventual restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem under the Messiah.


Early years

Levinger was born in Jerusalem in 1935, and studied at the Mercaz haRav yeshiva in Jerusalem under the guidance of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. [3] In his own words, he learned "that the Land of Israel must be in the hands of the Jewish people - not just by having settlements, but that it's under Jewish sovereignty". [4]

Jerusalem City in the Middle East

Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally.

Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and the Torah. The studying is usually done through daily shiurim as well as in study pairs called chavrutas. Chavrusa-style learning is one of the unique features of the yeshiva.

Zvi Yehuda Kook Israeli rabbi

Zvi Yehuda Kook was an Orthodox rabbi, a prominent leader of Religious Zionism, and Rosh Yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva. He was the son of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine.

Settlement movement

At the time of the 1967 war, Levinger was the rabbi of the Nehalim religious moshav near Petah Tikva. Together with the Movement for Greater Israel, he organized the resettlement by Jews of the Etzion Bloc evacuated in 1948 following the Kfar Etzion massacre. [5] There was disagreement on whether to wait for government approval, with Levinger taking the position that settlement should go ahead regardless. In the event, the government approved a Nahal military outpost at the site and kept secret that it was not military at all. [5] Levinger himself was not one of the settlers.

Nehalim Place in Central

Nehalim is a religious moshav in central Israel. Located south of Petah Tikva, it falls under the jurisdiction of Hevel Modi'in Regional Council. In 2017 it had a population of 1,615.

Moshav type of cooperative agricultural community in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories

Moshav is a type of Israeli town or settlement, in particular a type of cooperative agricultural community of individual farms pioneered by the Labour Zionists during the second wave of aliyah. A resident or a member of a moshav can be called a "moshavnik".

Petah Tikva Place in Israel

Petah Tikva, also known as Em HaMoshavot, is a city in the Central District of Israel, 10.6 km (6.59 mi) east of Tel Aviv. It was founded in 1878, mainly by Orthodox Jews of the Old Yishuv, and became a permanent settlement in 1883 with the financial help of Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

Levinger first came to Hebron in 1968 after the West Bank was occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War. He rented rooms in Al-Naher Al-Khaled Hotel (which belonged to the family of former Mayor of Hebron, Fahed Al-Qwasmeh) at Ein-Sarah, on the main street of Hebron, in order to hold a Passover Seder, and then refused to leave. In a deal with the Israeli government, he moved with his family and followers to a former army base on a hill just northeast of Hebron, where, with the state's cooperation, they established the settlement of Kiryat Arba. [6]

Hebron City in Hebron Governorate

Hebron is a Palestinian city located in the southern West Bank, 30 km (19 mi) south of Jerusalem. Nestled in the Judaean Mountains, it lies 930 meters (3,050 ft) above sea level. The largest city in the West Bank, and the second largest in the Palestinian territories after Gaza, it has a population of 215,452 Palestinians (2016), and between 500 and 850 Jewish settlers concentrated in and around the old quarter. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all venerate the city of Hebron for its association with Abraham – it includes the traditional burial site of the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs, within the Cave of the Patriarchs. Judaism ranks Hebron as the second-holiest city after Jerusalem, while some Muslims regard it as one of the four holy cities.

West Bank Part of the Palestinian territories near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia

The West Bank is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan to the east and by the Green Line separating it and Israel on the south, west and north. The West Bank also contains a significant section of the western Dead Sea shore. The West Bank was the name given to the territory that was captured by Jordan in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and subsequently annexed in 1950 until 1967 when it was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Six-Day War 1967 war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria

The Six-Day War, also known as the June War, 1967 Arab–Israeli War, or Third Arab–Israeli War, was fought between 5 and 10 June 1967 by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

In April 1979, Levinger's wife, Miriam, and Sarah Nachshon led a march to the center of Al-Shuhada Street in Hebron, and occupied the Al-Dabboia building, which had been a police station used during the Ottoman era.

Al-Shuhada Street

Al-Shuhada Street or Shuhada Street, also spelled a-Shuhada Street or ash-Shuhada Street, is a street in Hebron.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Asia, Europe and Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

In 1987, Hadashot asked a panel of twenty-two leading Israelis, from all parts of the political spectrum, to name the "person of the generation, the man or woman who has had the greatest effect on Israeli society in the last twenty years". First place in this poll was shared by Menachem Begin and Levinger..

In 1992, Levinger created a political party called "Torah VeEretz Yisrael" (Torah and Land of Israel) for the Knesset elections that year, but did not receive enough votes to pass the electoral threshold. Levinger has a wife, 11 children, and 50 grandchildren, most of whom live in the West Bank.[ citation needed ] His wife Miriam and several of his children are also known as activists.

Criminal charges

Levinger has been arrested and charged at least 10 times, starting in 1975, in relation to incidents in Hebron or Kiryat Arba. [7]

In 1984, Rabbi Levinger was arrested on suspicion of involvement with the Gush Emunim Underground. [8] In July 1985, Levinger was fined approximately $15,000 and given a three-month suspended sentence for trespassing in the house of a Hebron woman and attacking her six-year-old son. Levinger told the Jerusalem Magistrate Court that the boy had thrown a stone at his son. [9]

In 1988, Levinger was indicted on two separate criminal charges involving events in Hebron. On September 30, 1988, Levinger, who had been hit a week before by a rock, was attacked by stoners who smashed his windshield, injuring his son. He reached an Israeli checkpoint. Levinger pulled out his pistol, turned round, and went back down the streets shooting at shop windows, killing Palestinian store owner Hassan Abdul Azis Salah. [10] A customer was also wounded. Levinger claimed he had been surrounded by Palestinians who threatened his life, [10] and only to have shot into the air to defend himself against stone throwers. In a press conference following the shooting, Levinger said, "Regarding the actual deed, I will respond when the time comes. I have already said that as far as the substance of the case goes, the State Attorney's Office knows that I am innocent, and that I did not have the privilege of killing that Arab. Not that I may not have wanted to kill him or that he did not deserve to die, but I did not have the privilege of killing that Arab." [11] He was charged with "manslaughter, causing bodily harm in aggravated circumstances, and intentionally damaging property". [12] During one court appearance, Levinger approached the court waving his gun over his head and saying he had been "privileged" to have shot an Arab. After he was sentenced, he was carried off to jail on the shoulders of a cheering throng. His trial began in August 1989, despite protests by 13 right-wing Knesset members and hundreds of supporters. [13] Levinger pleaded not guilty to the charges, but accepted a plea-bargain to the lesser charge of negligent homicide. [14] He was sentenced to 5 months imprisonment and 7 months suspended, of which he served 92 days. [15] During his imprisonment, he was given leave to attend a public event in Hebron. [16] On his release in August 1990, he told Israel Radio, "If I'm in a situation of danger again, I'll again open fire. I hope that next time, I will be more careful, and I won't miss the target." [17]

In another case, which related to an event five months before the first, he was alleged to have assaulted a Palestinian woman and her two children after other Arab children had "made fun of" his daughter. At his trial in May 1989, the magistrate dismissed the evidence of the Arab witnesses on the grounds that they were interested parties and wanted to see Levinger in prison for ideological reasons, and also dismissed the evidence of two IDF soldiers who testified to the assault. [18] Six weeks after Levinger's release from prison on his separate negligent homicide conviction (see above), the Jerusalem District Court overturned his acquittal on the earlier assault charges. [19] He was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment, plus an additional 10 days for an outburst in court. [20] He served about two months. On his release in March 1991, he said "Over the years, I've carried out dozens of actions, and all of them were against the law. It was worthwhile to violate the law, as all these actions advanced the whole Land of Israel." [21]

In July 1995, Levinger was sentenced to seven months imprisonment for a violent altercation in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in September 1991. The court found that Levinger had pulled down the partition separating Jewish and Muslim worshippers and assaulted an IDF officer. [22] He served four months in prison in 1996. [23]

In December 1995, Levinger was sentenced to six months in prison and six months suspended for an incident in June 1991. He was found guilty of rioting in the Hebron market, of overturning stalls, forcing other merchants to close their shops, and of firing his pistol. His defense was that he was attacked by Palestinians throwing rocks. [24]

In December 1997, Levinger was sentenced to six months jail and fined $2,300 for disturbing Muslim prayers at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, and of blocking an army commander from entering Kiryat Arba. [25]

Later years

Since 2000, Levinger's health had been declining, and he was no longer a visible figure in the settlement movement. In 2007, Levinger fell victim to a major stroke as well as a broken hip. He died on 16 May 2015 at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. [26] Levinger was survived by his wife Miriam, 11 children, and numerous grandchildren. On Sunday, May 17, 2015, he was buried in the Ancient Cemetery in Hebron. [27]

In a condolence letter sent to the family, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Rabbi Levinger as “an outstanding example of a generation that sought to realize the Zionist dream, in deed and in spirit, after the Six-Day War.” [26]

See also

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  1. Encyclopaedia Judaica: Volume 8, p. 145
  2. Ami Pedazhur, Arie Perliger, Jewish Terrorism in Israel, Columbia University Press (2009) 2011 p. 72.
  3. Gershom Gorenberg, Accidental Empire, Times Books (2006), p108.
  4. Gorenberg pp. 106-107.
  5. 1 2 Gorenberg, pp. 106-123
  6. "Among The Settlers"., by Jeffrey Goldberg ( The New Yorker , May 2004)
  7. The Times, March 1, 1994.
  8. "UN REPORT OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO INVESTIGATE ISRAELI PRACTICES". Archived from the original on 2013-09-05. Retrieved 2017-06-29.
  9. Jerusalem Post, July 26, 1985, quoted by UN committee.
  10. 1 2 Roger Friedland, Richard Hecht, To Rule Jerusalem, University of California Press, 2000 p. 220.
  11. Quoted in B'Tselem, Law Enforcement on Israeli Civilians in the Occupied Territories , March 1994.
  12. AP, April 12, 1989 and JP, December 4, 1989; also see .
  13. Jerusalem Post, 15 Dec, 1989 and 17 December 1989.
  14. Reuters, Jerusalem Post, etc, May 1, 1990.
  15. AP, August 14, 1990.
  16. Jerusalem Post, August 9, 1990.
  17. AP and Reuters, August 14, 1990.
  18. Jerusalem Post, May 5, 1989 and October 17, 1990.
  19. Jerusalem Post, September 24, 1990 and October 17, 1990.
  20. Jerusalem Post, January 15, 1991.
  21. AP, March 26, 1991.
  22. BBC Monitoring Service, July 13, 1995; Reuters, July 12, 1995.
  23. Reuters, July 2, 1996.
  24. Jerusalem Post, December 12, 1995.
  25. Jewish Telegraphic Agency, quoted by Jewish News Weekly ; Jerusalem Report, January 8, 1998.
  26. 1 2 Kershner, Isabel (18 May 2015). "Moshe Levinger, Contentious Leader of Jewish Settlers in Hebron, Dies at 80". New York Times. Retrieved 3 September 2018.