Safed rabbi ignores police summons over alleged racism

Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu issued a halachic edict against renting or selling land to non-Jews in Safed, where he is chief rabbi.

By JONAH MANDEL
January 2, 2011 01:38
4 minute read.
RABBI SHMUEL Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed.

Eliyahu 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Safed’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu is refusing a police summons for questioning at Jerusalem’s Russian Compound on Sunday, on suspicion of incitement to racism.

While the official reason for not being able to appear for the questioning was time restrictions, a source close to the rabbi on Saturday night expressed his indignation over the fact that the Safed resident’s questioning was set for a Jerusalem police station, “to parade the rabbi in front of the media like a common criminal.” If the police want to speak with the rabbi, they can do so in a respectable manner, the source said.

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Some nine months ago, Eliahu issued a halachic edict against renting or selling land to non-Jews in Safed, signed by another 17 local rabbis. That statement was the basis for the recent so-called rabbis’ letter, which was signed by nearly 50 city rabbis nationwide last month, including Eliahu.

Israel’s political leadership, including the prime minister and president, roundly condemned the letter, and senior haredi adjudicators Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv were cited as objecting to it on the grounds of the damage it would cause Jews around the world.

Head of the Har Etzion yeshiva Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein pointed out the superficiality of the letter, which did not take into account a wealth of halachic literature refuting the sources quoted in the rabbis’ letter, as well as the damage it caused the religious population in the public uproar it aroused, which the rabbis should have been able to predict and therefore avoid.

The summons for Eliahu reached him early last week, and was kept under a veil of secrecy till Friday. Sources close to Eliahu stress that it was not the rabbi who told the media about the questioning.

When asked whether he would arrive in the capital for the questioning, Eliahu responded that he “asked whether David Grossman, Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni, who demonstrated against Jewish presence in the Shimon Hatzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood, were also summoned for questioning. Were there summonses for the heads of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose constitution prohibits selling apartments to non- Jews?” “If not, double standards are being applied here, and I don’t intend on playing into the hands of a legal system that acts in a non-egalitarian manner,” Eliahu said.

Meanwhile, the head of the Or Etzion yeshiva and one of the central national-religious spiritual leaders, Rabbi Haim Druckman, issued a statement regarding “the right, and duty, of rabbis to express the opinion of Torah on public matters as well.”

“Halachic edicts are not racism. The struggle over the Jewish identity of the State of Israel is a central part of Israel’s rabbis’ duties,” Druckman wrote on Friday.

Druckman, who is considered statesmanlike and also heads the State Conversion Authority, was one of the central figures protesting the police summons of the rabbis who had issued halachic endorsement to the Torat Hamelech book earlier this year.

In August, leading rabbis held a convention “for the independence of Torah” in a public show of support for the rabbis who refused to be questioned by police for endorsing the book.

One of those who had refused the summons, Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, who besides being the rabbi of the capital’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood is also the son of Shas’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was called in again by police on the same grounds last week, and stood firm in his refusal to be questioned.

Druckman had recently refused to add his name to the statement originally signed by the city rabbis, which is now circulating among heads of institutions and neighborhoods. The rabbi explained that the prohibition against renting or selling to non-Jews in Israel should be limited to “hostile factors,” such as Arabs financially supported by wealthy foreign elements who seek to weaken the Jewish grasp over the land of Israel.

Druckman is currently in the works of drafting a revised “rabbis’ letter” to that effect.

The Reform Movement in Israel called Eliahu’s summons “the first indication that the law enforcement agencies understand the severity of the situation, and the danger embedded in the current wave of racial incitement, one of its instigators being Eliahu.”

In a Friday statement, head of the movement Rabbi Gilad Kariv further reiterated “our demand of [Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman] to end his infuriating indifference, and publicly announce that if Eliahu doesn’t show up for police questioning, he will launch immediate measures for expelling the rabbi. The continued silence of the justice minister is tantamount to indirect support of the racist rabbis and their deeds.”

The Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) was central in Eliahu’s being prosecuted for racial incitement in 2006, following statements against Arabs. The prosecution, however, opted to withdraw the charges in return for Eliahu retracting his remarks and committing to not repeating them.

Following the recent edicts, IRAC demanded of Neeman and the attorney-general to recharge Eliahu on the grounds of racial incitement, as the deal from 2006 determined. As that has yet to happen, IRAC has filed a High Court of Justice petition to enforce that order.


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