Rabbis to convene after police summons

Prominent rabbis called over controversial "Torat Hamelech" endorsements.

By JONAH MANDEL
August 18, 2010 04:40
3 minute read.
Rabbis to convene after police summons

dov lior 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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A convention “in honor of the Torah and its independence” will be taking place in Jerusalem on Wednesday, following the summoning of two prominent national-religious rabbis for police questioning over their endorsement of a controversial Halacha book.

Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba and Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, publicly refused the police summons last Monday, saying in a statement that “the attempt to prevent the rabbis of Israel from expressing their opinion, the opinion of the Torah, through intimidation and threats is a most severe act and will not succeed.”

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The two rabbis had written a haskama (rabbinical endorsement) to Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira’s book Torat Hamelech, which discusses the rules of war and states that in certain situations, non-Jews can be killed.

The book has attracted a firestorm of controversy since being published in 2009. Last month, police questioned Shapira over the text and raided his yeshiva, Od Yosef Hai, in Yitzhar to confiscate copies.

Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsberg of Kfar Chabad, who endorsed Torat Hamelech as well, was also summoned for questioning, during which he explained to the officers the halachic reasoning behind his support for the book.

An ad in this weekend’s religious newspapers signed by some 50 primarily nationalreligious rabbis – including senior ones such as Conversion Authority head Rabbi Haim Druckman and Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Ya’acov Ariel – called on rabbis to convene at the capital’s Ramada hotel Wednesday for what is intended to be a show of support for scholarly independence on matters pertaining to religious thought, “without addressing the book’s content.”

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger has also opined that police shouldn’t have summoned the rabbis over their haskama, which should be safeguarded as freedom of speech is for academics.

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“If a rabbi is requested to give his blessing to a book that is halachic, and does so, he shouldn’t be investigated for it,” he told Israel Radio on Monday. “Israeli professors go abroad and criticize Israel, and the IDF is protected by freedom of speech, so why shouldn’t rabbis have that indemnity?” Metzger noted that the police should instead have approached the chief rabbis to “learn what a letter of blessing, or endorsement to a book, actually means in our generation.

I’m sure they would have retracted their decision to summon them for questioning after hearing the professional opinion of the Chief Rabbinate on the topic.”

However, the Forum of Modern Orthodox Movements, representing liberal national-religious groups such as Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah, the Religious Kibbutz Movement, Kolech and others, said it was “very concerned over the rabbis’ petition and the convention in support of not appearing [for] police questioning over the Torat Hamelech book.”

“The rabbis’ participation in the convention might be perceived by the public as a show of support for the content of Torat Hamelech, which could lead to dangerous actions,” the forum said in an announcement at the beginning of the week.


“Israel’s rabbis are subject to the laws of the state, as are all of Israel’s citizens, and that obligation also bears the halachic significance of dina demalchuta dina [the law of the state is law]. So such insubordination [of refusing police questioning] can also be considered a halachic transgression,” the announcement read. “The message of such a refusal is that some citizens are above the law and in some instances, citizens can take the law into their hands, which can unsettle the foundations of democracy and the regime of the State of Israel.”

However, the forum advised that “at the same time, law enforcement authorities should examine themselves to see if they are not applying double standards in their attitude to dangerous statements from both sides of the political map.”

Yaakov Lappin and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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