Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar came to the defense of Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman on Wednesday night, calling the attack this week on the minister "the hypocrisy of democracy."
"Throughout the generations the nations of the world attacked us and attempted to kill us and they always opposed the laws of the Torah, but for Jews to do such a thing?" said Amar during a speech at a rabbinic conference in Jerusalem on the implementation of Jewish law in monetary matters organized by the chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono, Ratzon Arussi.
At the beginning of the week Neeman called to replace the present legal system with Halacha. His comments sparked a flurry of responses and counter-responses pitting secular and Orthodox against one another. Amar's comments were the latest salvo in the ongoing fight over the issue of implementing Jewish law in place of the present legal tradition which draws from Ottoman and British sources as well as Jewish ones.
"What is this hypocrisy?" asked Amar. "Suddenly it is as if just because he is the Justice Minister people think he has a big key one cubit by four cubits which he is going to use to close down all the civil courts in the country. That is baseless extremism.
"What are they going to do next, censor us? The next thing they will do is say that it is forbidden to say that you believe in the coming of the messiah. Minister Neeman, like every other religious Jew, prays three times a day to reinstate our judges as in the past.
"We have not ever obligated anyone to undergo a trial in accordance with the Torah. But democratic rights should be given to those who want to be judged according to the Torah."
In a related development, Amar sent a letter to all members of the Knesset calling on them to pass a bill that would prevent the Supreme Court from interfering in inherently religious issues.
Amar referred specifically to a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the chief rabbinate was not permitted to revoke a kashrut certificate from a bakery just because the owner was a messianic Jewish believer in Christianity. The decision, handed down at the end of June of this year, ruled based on a precedent that found that belly-dancing was unrelated to kosher food. Therefore, just as it was irrelevant to the kashrut of a restaurant whether or not a belly-dancer danced there, so too it was irrelevant to the kashrut of a bakery whether or not the owner believed that Jesus was the messiah.
However, Amar attacked that Supreme Court decision and asked MKs to amend the law so that it would be impossible for the nation's highest legal secular arbiter to interfere in kashrut supervision or other religious issues. "In light of this [the ruling on the messianic Jew's bakery] we have to join forces, stand up and prepare legislation in response to this and in so doing we will prevent kashrut from becoming a farce."