An American transplant to Israel, Ginsburgh is best known for his teachings that seem to give license to Jewish vengeance attacks against Palestinians. His critics claim that Ginsburgh’s influence lies behind the worst Jewish terror attacks of the past 20 years, from the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to the massacre in Hebron of 29 Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein, who he hailed and endorsed in a book soon after the murders.
But Ginsburgh is not just about violence against Palestinians. His wide network of schools and communities has, until recently, been financially supported by the Israeli government and continues to receive funding from private donors in the United States and Israel. And he has a vision for the state’s future: He wants to dismantle it. In its place, he seeks to establish a Jewish monarchy. Indeed, some of his followers hope to crown Ginsburgh himself as their king. And though the number of Israelis openly advocating this right now is relatively small, they have a penchant for action that has given them a disproportionate impact on events.
Ginsburgh’s students include the so-called Hilltop Youth — gaggles of Jewish teens who roam the West Bank hilltops and intimidate Palestinians through acts of vandalism, arson and even murder.
Just a few weeks prior to Ginsburgh’s Tel Aviv event, two of these youths, now under indictment, allegedly firebombed the home of a family in the West Bank Palestinian village of Duma. Two young parents and their 18-month infant burned to death. On the walls of the Dawabsheh family’s home, the arsonists daubed the graffiti messages “Revenge” and “Long Live King Messiah.”
Ginsburgh has a proposal for addressing such outbreaks. In a 2014 public letter to 100 rabbis, he declared that the only way to stop Jewish terror actions, which he referred to as “uncontrolled reactions of youngsters who care about Israel,” is for the government and army to internalize that “the entirety of the State of Israel (including what is called ‘occupied territories’) belongs solely to the Nation of Israel, that it’s every Jew’s right to settle anywhere he pleases, and that the role of the army is only to protect Jews.”
Ginsburgh is the spiritual leader of the Od Yosef Chai (“Joseph Still Lives”) yeshiva — a West Bank seminary that has produced successive cohorts of radical students implicated in violence against Palestinians—and the clerical eminence behind a wide network of villages, neighborhoods, elementary schools, yeshivas, publishing houses. He directs a youth movement, a news website, a center for Jewish psychology and even a political movement, called Derech Chaim, of about 4,500 activists who support the idea that “the essence of the Jewish State is to become the Kingdom of Israel,” according to the movement’s official website. One of Derech Chaim’s major projects is the Hebrew Labor campaign, a title that whitewashes the real purpose of the project: to convince Jewish business owners not to hire Arab workers.
For more than 20 years, many of Ginsburgh’s institutions were supported by the State of Israel through the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Welfare, receiving millions of shekels. Od Yosef Chai’s published financial records, for instance, record budgetary allocations from the Ministry of Education totaling over $221,000 in 2007, a little more than $265,000 in 2008 and almost $293,000 in 2010.
In 2011 the flow of cash from the state to most of his organizations was stopped after the Ministry of Education accepted a Shin Bet assessment that “leading teachers” at Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva foster violence by their students against the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinians. Published records show that the Ministry of Education still funds two of Ginsburg’s elementary schools in Jerusalem, Torat HaYim and Ye’elat Chen, and that the Ministry of Welfare supports a side project of Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in the Galilee.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Religion and the Chief Rabbinate told the Forward that the ministry does not allocate funds to Ginsburg’s yeshivas but it does consider graduates of those yeshivas as eligible candidates to become state-approved rabbis.
In 1994, the American-born settler, Goldstein, murdered 29 Palestinian Muslims in Hebron as they knelt in prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs, where, according to tradition, the biblical figures Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives — all of them revered also in Islam — are buried. Soon after, Ginsburgh wrote his most infamous work: a pamphlet titled “Baruch Ha Gever,” or “Blessed Is the Heroic Man,” that investigates the spiritual and moral virtues of Goldstein’s massacre. The title, perhaps not incidentally, also invoked Goldstein’s own first name, suggesting he was the heroic man. “The life of Israel is more important than the life of goyim,” Ginsburgh wrote there. “If there is a chance (even a slight one) that the goy will work (even indiscreetly) to harm the life of Israel, then you don’t care for the life of the goy — moreover the best goy is a dead one.”
Ginsburgh’s pamphlet inspired the publication of a collection of articles in a book, also entitled “Baruch Ha Gever,” that explored the permissibility of killing Arabs according to Jewish law. The editors of the books were convicted of incitement for racism in 1996. In April of that same year, Ginsburgh gained notice in American Jewish circles when he told the New York Jewish Week that Halacha, or traditional Jewish law, would “probably permit” seizing an unwilling non-Jew for a liver transplant to save the life of a Jew.
“Jewish life has infinite value,” he told the newspaper. “There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.”