N.Y. shul isolates own rabbi who OKd Rabin killing

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However, there are conflicting reports over whether the congregation is looking for a way to force Hecht to retire.

The controversy surrounding Hecht continued as reports surfaced in Israel that rabbis there had issued similar edicts against Rabin.

Late last week, leaders of the Brooklyn synagogue presented a letter to the Israeli Consulate in New York, saying that the statements uttered by Hecht were "his own personal views and not those of Congregation Shaare Zion."

"We reject all messages of hate and condemn all acts of violence," said the letter, which was addressed to Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres and signed by Morris Franco, the congregation's president.

But Franco, in an interview, dismissed as baseless the widespread reports that Hecht had been ousted, yet refused to discuss what course the synagogue might pursue with Hecht.

Hecht, who is in Florida, could not be reached for comment. But his son, Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht, said his father's character was being assassinated and he had become a target for all the "anger, chagrin and pain" of Rabin's death.

"My father is not a Khomeini," he said, referring to one of the epithets that have been aimed at the senior Hecht. "He has always had the interest of the Jewish people and the state of Israel foremost in his mind."

Hecht made headlines in June when he said at a news conference 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, wrote a letter to Rabin expressing regret for his earlier comments. The alliance is a group of a few hundred ultra-religious rabbis.

Jews "must speak and act toward each other as we would toward God," he wrote.

According to an open letter from Hecht to his congregation after the assassination, Rabin had read the letter and "expressed his satisfaction and acceptance and my apology to those present."

In the letter, Hecht said, "my remarks have been twisted and misconstrued and I have been quoted totally out of context."

Nonetheless, he said, "I wish to publicly apologize to my community for causing any unintentional aggravation."

Ambassador Colette Avital, Israeli consul general in New York, said she welcomed the apology at the time that it was issued.

In the wake of the assassination, however, she has singled out Hecht and others who used violent rhetoric for creating a climate of intolerance and hatred that made the killing possible.

The New York Board of Rabbis, with 800 mostly non-Orthodox members, issued a similar condemnation of the harsh rhetoric.

"We believe that the recent level of vilification and demonization of Israel's leaders by some Israelis and American Jews helped prepare the atmosphere for Israel's tragic loss. The vituperative rhetoric has been outrageous and unacceptable and a violation of Jewish norms."

In a statement issued by the RAA, Hecht was quoted as saying, "I quoted Jewish law as codified in Maimonides that conveys the seriousness of taking action that endangers human life. I never said nor meant that [the] Maimonides ruling was to be applied, heaven forbid, against Rabin or any other person."

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

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

Many 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.

Other sources belonging to or close to the congregation said that since the killing, the community had been trying to dissociate itself from Hecht and his remarks and repair the "damage done to the synagogue's reputation."

Another said the congregation was looking for a way to force Hecht to retire.

But Hecht's son said congregation members remained loyal to his father. He said their written repudiation of his remarks was a function of their coming under attack with "their beloved rabbi out of town on vacation."