Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich hopes to use his powers of persuasion, as in this November 2015 photo, to sell a new right-wing diplomatic plan..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) said that he wants a halachic state in which Israel is governed in accordance with Torah law.
Smotrich made his comments on Kan Radio Monday morning, following similar remarks in a speech he delivered on Sunday at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he said that he was seeking the Justice Ministry “in order to restore our judges as of old,” and “to restore” Torah law to the Jewish state.
The position of justice minister is currently vacant, since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Ayelet Shaked on Sunday. Smotrich and the URP demanded the justice portfolio during the coalition negotiations after the April general election.
His comments generated significant opposition – including a tweet from Netanyahu, in which he said: “The State of Israel will not be a halachic state” – and condemnation from numerous MKs.
Smotrich later clarified his remarks, saying that the State of Israel would not return to biblical times, and insisted that he believed Torah law was a better and more moral code for Israeli law to draw from than English-common law, Turkish law and other legal frameworks that have contributed to Israel’s existing one.
“For sure, my will is that in the long term, the State of Israel be governed by Jewish law; that’s how it needs to be in a Jewish state,” Smotrich said during his Monday interview.
“If you ask me how long it will take, it will happen only when the Jewish people want it – not when I want it or you want it, but when the Jewish people want it,” he continued.
Smotrich rejected criticism of such a step by asserting that Torah law was preferable to what he described as “a state of law.” He claimed that this has been instituted by the Supreme Court and its justices through judicial activism.
“The laws of Torah are far more preferable than the state of law instituted by Aharon Barak,” said the MK in reference to the Supreme Court justice who advanced judicial activism in the 1990s.
“Why is a state of law – in which the person who determines the laws is Aharon Barak, and a small group of people who were not elected – okay?” he asked.
“The State of Israel and the state of the Jewish people will return to be governed as it was governed in the days of King David and King Solomon – by Torah law, obviously in accordance with our days, our challenges and economy and how society lives in 2019,” asserted Smotrich.
He evaded a question as to whether or not Shabbat violators would be stoned under such a regime, answering only that stoning was a very uncommon phenomenon under Jewish law, since the Talmud greatly restricted the use of capital punishment.
Smotrich’s comments generated heavy criticism from several quarters, including Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who warned that the head of the URP was giving a taste of what was to come from a new right wing-religious government.
“His outrageous comments are a signpost for the wave of conservativism washing over us from [those elected] on the Right,” she said, adding that Smotrich’s vision included “a man divorcing his wife for not dressing modestly enough, slavery, stoning, banning of homosexual relations and only men owning property.”
She added that the fact that Smotrich and his political allies “hold positions of heavy influence is a great danger to human freedom and the era of enlightenment.”
In response to this and other criticism, Smotrich wrote a 1,300-word essay on his Facebook page clarifying his remarks.
He said that the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel and its loss of sovereignty meant that they had forgotten the role of Jewish law in governing a state, but that it had always been the desire of Jews in exile not only to return to their land but also to their legal code.
“Yes, I believe that the Torah and the wonderful, 2,000-year old heritage of the Jewish people has a lot to give in our days as well,” Smotrich wrote.
“And no, we won’t return to the days of the Bible,” he continued, saying that “social realities” were different and need to be addressed differently.
“So let’s stop being afraid of our roots. First and foremost, uproot the ignorance... and implement as much as is possible from all that is good in [the Torah] in daily life,” he said, adding that this should happen gradually and “without coercion.”
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