Arsonist Sets Fire to Synagogue
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ A synagogue was set on fire today and police said they found a note at the site vowing more such attacks in a dispute between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews over provocative bathing suit ads.
David Sharabi, a caretaker who lives next to the synagogue in south Tel Aviv, said he was awakened by a neighbor when the pre-dawn blaze began and extinguished it within minutes, Israel Army Radio reported.
The sexton of the synagogue, Rahamim Meir, estimated the loss at $6,500 and said religious books, chairs, the air conditioner and the roof were damaged, the radio reported.
A police spokesman told The Associated Press investigators found a note warning that for every bus shelter burned by Orthodox Jews ″we will burn down a synagogue in retaliation.″
The latest in a long series of disputes between ultra-orthodox and secular Jews is over the posting on bus shelters of large color ads of provocatively posed women in Israeli-made bathing suits which the ultra-orthodox call an ″abomination.″
Members of the ultra-Orthodox community have burned down 14 bus shelters and defaced another 26 in the last six months, according to Jerusalem police spokesman Rafi Levy.
Fifty-six people have been arrested on charges of damaging the shelters, including the rabbi of the synagogue set on fire today.
An anonymous caller phoned the army radio station claiming responsibility for the arson. He said he had been among those who caught the synagogue’s rabbi, Shmuel Cohen, vandalizing bus shelters.
A Jerusalem court Tuesday convicted six ultra-Orthodox Jews of causing willful damage to property for spray-painting the advertisements.
Judge Aharon Simha sentenced five men to three-month jail terms and $300 fines in Magistrates Court, but delayed sentencing the sixth because he was a minor.
The defendants told the judge before sentencing that they did not regret vandalizing posters and said they would do it again. ″If they put up more pictures we will paint them, in the name of heaven,″ said defendant Yehoshua Rabinowitz.