Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan is a fascinating character in the Religious Zionist world. Amongst his career credits he can point to being an officer in the IDF, one of the founders of Hispin - the Golan's biggest town, the Director General of Israel's Rabbinical Courts for over 20 years and Director of the Office of Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, of blessed memory. He currently serves as Vice-Minister of Defense on behalf of the Jewish Home / Bayit Yehudi party. In this wide-ranging interview, he takes us behind the scenes of efforts to apply Hebrew law in Israel, the problems of our
kashrut supervision system, the struggle to build in Judea and Samaria and more.

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Is it possible to integrate Hebrew law (aka halacha aka Jewish law) in Israel generally, and particularly in regard to land matters and other financial laws? If so, how? 

“We need to undertake a range of initiatives.

"The first step is to warm people to the idea, as there are a lot of people who oppose it at present. There needs to be an educational process to educate ahead of this implementation.

"Second we need to work on seeing how the laws of the Torah can be used, can be applied for this. E.g. The law of torts etc - we need to see how what the Talmud says applies to modern situations.

"We need to begin with monetary disputes, e.g. between neighbours, in various contractual matters, in employment contracts… these are easier fields to make a start in than immovable property (i.e. land, buildings, real estate). There are many institutions that are advancing this cause and working towards its developments, as well as a very broad literature in this area. It's a process that won't happen overnight, but progressively we can get there over time.

"At the moment, we (Rabbi Ben Dahan's party, the Bayit Yehudi or Jewish Home) are promoting a draft law in this vein. The law proposes that financial disputes can be resolved in a rabbinic beit din [court judging according to Hebrew law.] "

People can already do that. What does the law add?

"Yes, people can go to a beit din, but what you are referring to are private arbitration courts composed of rabbis, as opposed to the official batei din (plural of beit din) of the state. The private batei din's decisions would not be recognized by the state in the way the decision of a regular court is recognized.

"What the law proposes is to enable private citizens to have their disputes ruled upon by the state's official system of batei din [whose authority today is limited essentially to matters concerning marriage, conversion, and certain related topics such as inheritance or eligibility to marry]. In other words, this would allow state batei din decisions to be enforced through regular state mechanism."

You obtained financing for a Border Police base to be moved from a hill within the community of Beit-El to another area. This should enable 300 housing units to be built there. Now when can we anticipate that the initiative will be completed such that people can move into those housing units?

"The project is built from two parts. Half the area is being dealt with by the regional council - we're waiting for them to put forth a plan.

"The other half is, as you said, the Border Police's base. We expect them to complete the evacuation of the base by next Passover (5778 / 2018). That land should be able to have 120 housing units built on it.

"With regard to when people will be able to move in, there are calls for tenders for general contractors to build the housing units. From our perspective, [i.e. the government's involvement in the project,] the project is done. It's now a regional matter to be handled by the planning authority the regional council.

[PM Netanyahu has since informed the leadership of Beit El of a 6 month construction freeze for Beit El and the rest of of Judea and Samaria and the PM has also frozen construction in Jerusalem despite his government's grand announcements of 6000 housing units to be built in the city. By complete and utter coincidence, Trump's aides are visiting Israel at the moment to get us to negotiate a two-state “solution”.]

What's the status of Amona's expelled residents?

Amona dorm room unbearable living conditions
Their feeling is that they're being abused, and it's hard to deny the fact that the government did not keep its side of the deal. [In response to a lawsuit brought by the extreme-left,post-Zionist group Peace Now, The Supreme Court ruled that the town should be destroyed. In exchange for the residents' agreement to evacuate their homes peaceably and not interfere with the destruction, the government agreed to build new homes for Amona's residents on a nearby plot of land. Further appeals prevented that coming about and they are currently housed in hardly-livable conditions for families, packed in dorm rooms (as pictured above) for four months as of the time of the interview, and five and a half months as of the time of publication.]



"I agree, they're right. What's going on here is that there is a delay that should not have taken place whatsoever! There is currently a debate between the government's lawyers regarding how to establish the new town.

"Allow me to explain.

"Usually, when you want to build a new town, the Construction Planning Authority has a long process with several steps. The government is pressing for that process to be shortened and sped up and get the Attorney General's approval to go ahead and speed up the process. Unfortunately things are still going slowly. The government is currently waiting for his approval. Once we have that, then we can build the temporary town, to house them, and then move on to build proper housing units for them.

What about Amona's residents that the bureaucracy are trying to undermine them?

"I agree with them. The catch is we need legal approval from our legal advisors to use the accelerated process. Right now we're waiting for the Legal Advisor to the government to give his approval.

When is that approval due?


We're expecting it any day.

How about by this time next week?

It should have come through by now, I'm hoping it will be ready any day.

[It finally came through… a month after the interview. Whoever told Rabbi Ben Dahan that it was coming through "any day" had a different understanding of that expression than the general public.]

During Rabbi Ben Dahan's tenure as Vice Minister of Religious Affairs, he sought to solve a conflict of interest problem with kashrut supervision, or hashgacha. Currently, kashrut supervisors are employed by the restaurants they are meant to be supervising. This can create a reticence on the part of the supervisor (mashgiach, pl. mashgichim) to properly apply the laws of kashrut, such as in cases where the laws may cause a financial loss to the restaurant or otherwise be contrary to the owner's wishes. I asked the Rabbi what had become of his initiative for the Rabbinate to employ the supervisors.

"From the time I left the Ministry, the proposal hasn't moved forward.”

He points out that contrary to my memory (what I'd read goes back a few years), his proposal wasn't for the Israeli Rabbinate to employ the supervisors but rather for a new, state-owned corporation to do so.

“This corporation would invoice the restaurateurs and pay a salary to the mashgiach, such that there wouldn't be any connection between the business and the mashgiach. "

Is there interest amongst the general public in moving this forward? 

"Today everyone understands that there is no logic in the current situation and that we need to change.
"The Rabbinate is advocating that the local religious councils be the ones to employ the supervisors."

[The local religious councils are public entities that provide numerous religious services such as performance of religious rites and ceremonies, construction and maintenance of ritual baths (mikvaot) and approve or reject the granting of kashrut certification to businesses. It seems that the current status of things is that mashgichim are in contact with the councils, but not employed by them.]

"I don't think that anyone will agree to the local religious councils being the ones to employ the mashgichim. The councils suffer from a poor public image. Some are involved in processes to reform their administration because they have incurred large debts. For the Finance Ministry and government to approve of 4000-5000 supervisors to be employed by the local religious councils strikes me as unlilkely. There's a lack of trust in them, so I doubt the Finance Ministry will agree to it."

Yair Lapid is rising dramatically in the polls. In large part, this is the result of their intensive work organizing local town-hall-style meetings - 350 town hall meetings in Israel's rural periphery by Yesh Atid MKs in about a year and a half. What is the Jewish Home doing towards the next elections?

“You need to be very weary of polls. They can promise many things but there's a long road to travel between telephone polls and the polling booth. It seems like a big oversimplification to say that Yesh Atid has risen in the polls due to their town-hall meetings. There are many additional factors; a weakening of Labour, people searching for someone who perhaps will somewhat challenge the Prime Minister's status. I don't think it's just about town-halls.

"As for the Jewish Home, we have a lot of achievements, both of our Ministers and those of the regular MKs. I hope the public will reward us for them.

"The Yachad Party also damaged the interests of Religious Zionism. I hope it won't happen again. You also need to consider that a lot of our voters chose to vote Likud at the last minute. I really hope they won't be tempted again to switch allegiance at the last minute."

Is the Jewish Home trying to integrate Yachad into its ranks?

"The Jewish Home is an open party and anyone who wants can come and compete for a spot on our list [in the primaries]. If your question is about granting Yachad members a fixed spot on our list [i.e. without them needing to participate in the primaries], that’s not relevant. "
 
What is the status of your relations with the Charedi parties?

“Very good. There's cooperation. The whole government is homogenous and [the atmosphere is] positive.”

I didn't understand how, during the previous government, the Jewish Home supported Yesh Atid's law to force Charedim to draft to the Israeli army, as opposed to the status quo where those who draft, draft by choice.

"The law is much better than what the Charedim in fact agreed to in the past, e.g. as proposed to them by [former Defense Minister Shaul] Mofaz and others. But the principles are good: those who study Torah, can continue to study. Those who aren't studying, can draft.

"The Charedim understood that at the end of the day, the law protects them - those who want to learn, can continue learning. The [Charedi] opposition to it was more political; when a party sits in the opposition, they generally oppose everything the government proposes.
"[Privately] the Charedi parties recognize that Yair Lapid's law enables those who want to study Torah to continue learning and those who don't, can draft. And we didn't in fact revoke the law but merely delayed its application for a 3 year period.

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