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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman came under fire Tuesday, after apparently expressing hope that the state's current legal system will soon be dictated by the Torah.
Former justice minister and current opposition leader and Kadima chair Tzipi Livni told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that such sentiments should "be troubling to every citizen in Israel," and expressed confidence that Israel's characteristics enable a healthy blend between temporal law and halacha.
Another former justice minister, Yossi Beilin, urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire Neeman following his 'Torah' statement.
According to Beilin, "A justice minister who advocates an Israeli theocracy needs to leave his post immediately."
Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz said that Neeman's comments "undermine the foundations of the value system and the laws of a democratic country."
She said that if he meant what he said, Neeman should reconsider his position since his remarks are damaging to "entire communities and to the delicate balance that exists between a democratic state and a Jewish state."
Fellow Kadima MK Ya'acov Edri called on Neeman to resign, saying that with his remarks, the justice minister had expressed a total lack of trust in the establishment that he was appointed to head.
Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron slammed the justice minister for his "disloyalty" to Israel's principles.
"It's unfortunate that the justice minister has detached himself from the basic values of the State of Israel and is not 'loyal' to the civic and statesman-like principles," Oron said in a play on the meaning of the justice minister's name, which is Hebrew for "loyal."
"His declarations indicate a worrying process of 'Talibanization' of Israeli society that has escalated to delusional levels," he warned.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, said in response, "A justice minister that is supposed to strengthen the democratic rule of law and the legal system in Israel has chosen instead to give his backing to a group of people who see civil courts as 'goyish' and in so doing undermines the trust citizens place in the rule of law.
"Allowing halacha to take over Israeli law does not fit in with basic democratic principles and with the enlightened and progressive character of the State of Israel.
"The fact that the justice minister of the State of Israel supports such a move, even as a personal wish, is a bad sign for Israeli democracy," Kariv said.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkovitz, however, "applauded the justice minister for his intention to base the Israeli legal system on Jewish law and give it a Jewish soul.
"No one should have reason to fear the declaration of the minister, who embodies a combination of religious values and pluralism. But there is reason to fear a legal system that does not faithfully represent the diverse opinions of the Jewish people," Hershkovitz said.
Neeman had told rabbis and rabbinical judges attending a conference in Jerusalem on Jewish monetary laws that "restoring the former glory, so that the law of the Torah is Israel's law, is really the appropriate way to endow upon us the law of Torah in stagesâ€¦ step after step."
Neeman repeatedly used the phrase "restoring former glory," which has become associated with Shas, after it became the religious-Sepharadi party's slogan.
"Israel should regain the heritage of our Fathers, the primary and ultimate words of the Torah, which contain a complete solution to all the questions we deal with," the justice minister continued in his address on Monday night.
"Soon, in the near future, amen," he added.
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef sent a greeting to the conference in which he stressed the halachic prohibition against using secular courts, and said that there was no halachic difference between gentile judges and Jewish judges deliberating according to gentile laws.
He called on the public to choose Jewish courts in any litigation.
Yosef quoted a halacha which states that "anyone who legislates in secular courts is raising one's hand to the Torah of Moses our teacher, he is deemed a wicked person and cannot not be counted in a minyan."
The Justice Ministry tried to quell the uproar sparked by Neeman's words.
"In the wake of reports on IDF Radio regarding his remarks at a rabbinical conference last night, Justice Minister Prof. Yaakov Neeman wishes to clarify that these remarks were not a call for Jewish religious law to replace the laws of the State of Israel, either directly or indirectly.
"Minister Neeman spoke in broad and general terms about restoring the stature of Jewish law and about the importance of Jewish law to the life of the country," the statement read.
Following the "insufficient response" to the allegations, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) on Tuesday afternoon called to conduct a "swift discussion" in the Knesset's Constitution, Justice and Law Committee, which Paz-Pines is a member of, and summon Neeman to it.
"A hidden agenda has been exposed here, showing a dark outlook," Paz-Pines said in a statement. "The justice minister expressed explicit mistrust in the Israeli justice system as well as an aspiration to turn the state into a state of halacha. A justice minister who does not believe in the system he is in charge of, should ask himself what he is doing in his position," the Labor parliamentarian said.
Gil Hoffman and Matthew Wagner contributed to this report
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