Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Curious Case of The Dog in The Rabbinical Court

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Israeli newspaper Maariv published a report over the weekend alleging that a group of rabbis in Jerusalem had made a bizarre ruling to stone to death a dog that they believed was a reincarnated rabbi. The story was picked-up by Ynet, the English-language website for Israeli Tabloid Yediot Ahoronot, and subsequently made it into the world’s media, including the News Ltd tabloids in Australia.

A JERUSALEM rabbinical court has condemned to death by stoning a dog it suspects is the reincarnation of a secular lawyer who insulted the court's judges 20 years ago. ...Clearly still offended, one of the judges sentenced the animal to death by stoning by local children. The canine target, however, managed to escape.

If this sounds a little far-fetched to be true, that’s because it is. As observed here, a simple story involving a dog that was safely removed from a rabbinical council by the municipal dogcatcher became "sexed-up" somewhere in the Israeli secular press. It also seems like the fact-checking department had a day off at a lot of normally reputable publications.

The rabbis who were accused strongly rejected the claims and Maariv published the below retraction:

The Apology

On the 3rd of June 2011 we published a story titled “Mea Shearim: Rabbinnical court orders the stoning of a dog”. The story reported a police complaint filed by the Association for Animal Rights (Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim) against the Jerusalem Rabbinnical Court for Financial Affairs. The story also featured the total denial of the Chief Justice of the court, Yehoshua Levin, of the complaint. The Rabbi said, among other things: “There is no basis for the abuse of an animal, neither from the Halacha nor by common sense”. According to him, employees of the municipality have collected the dog from the court. The title of the story didn’t fully present the entire story, and we apologize for the anguish caused to the court and its members.

(Translation via Honest Reporting).

There have been similar retractions so far by the BBC and Time, although the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph have yet to publish any corrections.