The Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel called on Orthodox Jews to arm themselves when they attend synagogue over the weekend, after a terror attack Thursday night that left three dead.
The rare statement from Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on a matter outside of religious law reflected the tense security situation in Israel following the deadly stabbing, the latest in a series of attacks by Palestinian and Islamic State-inspired Israeli terrorists, including in the ultra-Orthodox cities of Bnei Brak and Elad.
“Due to the tense security situation, those with a license to carry a weapon… should bring it to the synagogue and help secure the public,” Yosef said in a statement.
The chief rabbi’s statement asked those with firearms to conceal them while in synagogues for “modesty” reasons. Many Orthodox Jews believe it is inappropriate to openly display weapons inside synagogues.
Police officials indicated that the two Palestinian terrorists who carried out the axe and knife attack at a central park and nearby road in Elad Thursday night may still be in the area, raising fears the pair may attack again.
Hebrew media reports said the two entered Israel illegally through a breach in the West Bank security barrier. They are believed to have been familiar with the city, which sits east of Tel Aviv fewer than three kilometers (two miles) from the Green Line.
In late March, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Israelis with gun licenses to carry their weapons with them, following a deadly attack in Bnei Brak, and other officials have also encouraged civilians to arm themselves.
“There’s no cop on every corner. but there are many civilians who a license to carry a gun,” former Tel Aviv police chief Aryeh Amit told Channel 12 news Friday. “They need to carry the gun everywhere. If last night there had been one or two people with guns, the attack would have been stopped in its tracks. It didn’t happen because civilians did not have guns.”
Gun control in Israel is relatively strict, and generally only granted to those who can show a need for extra security in their line of work or daily life. Citizens can only own one gun at a time and only 50 bullets.
Applications for gun licenses reportedly skyrocketed in late March in response to the attacks.
Following a deadly Beersheba terror attack in mid-March that claimed the lives of four Israelis, police said they would ease gun policies for civilians involved in neutralizing terrorists. Police had sparked a minor controversy by temporarily confiscating pistols from civilians who shot the terrorist as part of their investigation.
Under the new procedure, police said a civilian whose gun is taken to be forensically examined after they were involved in neutralizing a terrorist would be accompanied home by police officers, and a new handgun would be issued for them in an expedited procedure.
The three victims of the terror attack were named early Friday as Yonatan Havakuk, Boaz Gol and Oren Ben Yiftah, all young fathers who between them leave behind 16 children. They were buried on Friday afternoon. At least one of the wounded was in critical condition, and up to seven were hurt in the attack.
The attack came at the end of Israel’s Independence Day and took place minutes after celebratory events had concluded, with the park crowded with Israelis enjoying the national holiday.
Thursday’s attack followed a wave of terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, and repeated threats by Palestinian terror groups over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
It brought the number of people killed in terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank since March 22 this year, to 19.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.