A prominent rabbi on Wednesday called on the government to avenge the shooting attack that killed eight Jewish seminary students earlier this month, saying members of the Palestinian gunman's family should be hanged "from a high tree."

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of the northern town of Safed and the son of a former chief rabbi of Israel, issued the call in a newsletter distributed to synagogues around the country.

Photos: Massacre in Jerusalem

"A country that really cares about its citizens should hang the 10 sons of the terrorist from a high tree," he wrote, quoting the biblical Book of Esther. The original text referred to the book's villain, Haman, who plotted to kill all the Jews in Persia before he was foiled.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Eliyahu said he was using a "metaphor," but said he supported taking revenge against people who attack Jews. "I don't apologize for anything and stand behind everything I wrote," he said.

There has been a chorus of calls for revenge since the March 6 attack, in which a lone Palestinian gunman entered the library of the Mercaz Harav seminary and opened fire, killing eight young students and leaving a scene of bloodstained holy books before he was shot dead.

Just after the attack, hundreds of Jewish seminarians gathered outside the yeshiva and chanted: "Death to Arabs." And days later, a group of mourners toward the home of the Palestinian shooter, smashing car windows before being stopped by police.

The harsh comments by Eliyahu, a relatively mainstream rabbi, could enflame tensions even further.

In his essay in the newsletter "Eretz Yisrael Shelanu," Hebrew for "the Land of Israel is ours," Eliyahu said the Bible condones revenge against those who act against you.

"It's time to call the child by its name: Revenge, revenge, revenge. We mustn't forget. We have to take horrible revenge for the terrorist attack," he wrote. "I'm not talking about individual people in particular, I'm talking about the state. It has to pain them to the point where they scream 'enough,' to the point where they fall flat on their face and scream 'help.' Not for the sake of satisfying the need for revenge but for the purpose of deterrence."

The newsletter also included a fake letter in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert name, which mocked him and conveyed him as a weak leader who capitulated to terrorists.

The dovish Meretz party called the Eliyahu's comments "incitement."

The Israeli Justice Ministry, which would be responsible for investigating such cases, declined comment.