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Israeli Rabbi forbids followers from looking at currency featuring poet who married a Christian

(Wikimedia Commons/Osnat Eshel)Israel's 50-shekel banknote is featured in this image.

An influential Rabbi in Israel has issued a controversial ruling that prohibits religious people from looking at the country's 50-shekel banknote because it features the image of a renowned Hebrew poet who married a Christian woman.

Shaul Tchernichovsky, who is considered to be one of the greatest Hebrew poets, was one of four poets chosen in 2011 to appear on Israeli banknotes, according to Times of Israel. The Russian-born poet, who created most of his work in Israel in the 19th century, was married to a Russian woman named Melania Karlova, with whom he had a daughter, Isolda.

Haaretz reported that Rabbi Benzion Mutzafi issued the ruling after giving a lecture to several of his students over the weekend. Following a lesson, the rabbi reportedly pulled out a 50-shekel banknote from his pocket and told a student that he should avoid looking at the currency.

"As for the illustrated figure [referencing the image of Tchernichovesky], It is known that he was 'married' to a devout Christian who would go to pray in church every Sunday," the rabbi's written explanation to the controversial ruling read.

"They say that at the time, Rabbi Avraham Kook [the Ashkenazi chief rabbi prior to the country's establishment] begged, implored and asked him to try to convince her to convert to Judaism. And he refused," it continued.

Mutzafi said that he keeps the banknote folded upside down in his pocket so he does not have to look at it.

The rabbi went on to explain that "in our tradition, there are grave things written about whoever [lives his life] with a Christian. Tied to him like a dog. [People like that are] called apostates."

The ruling affects the ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Israel as Mutzafi is a senior rabbi in the Sephardi community.

The introduction of the 50-shekel banknote in September 2014 had prompted outrage among senior religious figures in Israel.

Orthodox rabbi Shlomo Aviner said that Tchernichovsky's portrait on the bill was "horribly grating."

Aviner, who serves as the head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, further stated that a "terrible dishonor was deeply imprinted" on the poet's life because he was married to a "very religious Christian."

Bentzi Gopstein, director of the violent anti-assimilation group Lehava, said that he also lamented the use of the poet's image, but he acknowledged that avoiding the use of the currency was unrealistic.

"I could say (that) but no one would do it. We should learn who the real role models are," he said.

Last month, Israel introduced the new 100-shekel and 20-shekel banknotes, featuring Leah Goldberg and Rachel Bluwstein, better known simply as Rachel the Poet.

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