Greek Orthodox 311.
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
In a rare ruling, a judge in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court dismissed an
indictment filed against a priest who punched a haredi yeshiva student in the
face for having spat at him as he passed.
In June 2008, Greek Orthodox
priest Martarsian was walking along The Armenian’s Street, in the Armenian
Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, when the yeshiva student spat toward the
ground in his direction.
The priest then punched the man in the face,
causing him to bleed.
The priest did not dispute that he had punched the
man, but asked that the indictment be dismissed in accordance with a clause in
the law that allows for charges to be dismissed “if the indictment contravenes
the essence of the principles of justice and fairness.”
Judge Dov Pollock
said in his ruling last Tuesday that the court had heard evidence of daily
incidents in which Christian clergy were spat upon by members of the
ultra-Orthodox community, something which, the judge added, has been occurring
for a number of years and which the police has not acted to
“Needless to say, spitting toward the accused when he was
wearing the mantle of the church is a criminal offense,” the judge
Those who do this “hurt not only the people they spit at, but the
image of our country, tourism and our values.”
The judge criticized the
priest for taking the law into his own hands but said that it was equally
deplorable that the authorities do not take the required action to uproot the
phenomenon through prosecution and education.
“It is intolerable that a
man of the Christian faith should be demeaned because of his religion, in the
same way that it is for a Jew, Pollock said.
“The Jewish people
experienced a long history of Christian anti-Semitism that brought great
suffering to Jews and Judaism,” the judge continued.
“However, with the
realization of the return of the Jewish people to sovereignty and independence,
the state must strive not to look back but to establish a country that
guarantees freedom of religion and worship to every religion, a state where
every person is equal before the law without distinction of race or religion.
These things are the cornerstone of the Declaration of Independence, and the
rock of the foundation of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic
The plaintiff told the court that he had not spat at the priest
to degrade him but because he suffered from a medical complaint that caused him
to produce a lot of saliva.
Pollock dismissed this argument owing to the
fact that he had not produced any medical documentation to substantiate the
claim, nor had he needed to spit during the duration of the court
“The defendant is being prosecuted for having, in a single
incident, punched a man who spat in front of him, after having suffered years of
being spat at and demeaned while wearing the mantle of the church, and having
never received any response from the authorities for this distress,” the judge
He ruled that the indictment represented a contravention of the
principles of justice, for which he was dismissing the charges.
Ilan, vice president of Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, applauded
the ruling and called on rabbis and leaders of the haredi community to denounce
the phenomenon of members of their community spitting at Christian
“The haredi leadership has to understand that the fact that we
have established a Jewish state brings responsibility, Ilan told The Jerusalem
“We have to prove that we don’t treat people from other
religions as Jews were treated in the past. The idea that we came here
and treated others as we were treated is simply insufferable.”
Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, co-founder of the Center for Jewish-Christian
Understanding and Cooperation, also welcomed the ruling.
“The crime this
man committed by spitting at the priest was embarrassing him. This yeshiva
student was in return embarrassed by having been struck by the priest, so I hope
it was a lesson well learned for this particular yeshiva student,” Riskin
“The haredi community’s attitude to the Christian church stems from
the pogroms carried out by Christians mobs against Jews in Europe for hundreds
of years, incited by members of the Christian clergy, Riskin said.
times have changed and a whole new era of Jewish-Christian relations and
understanding has dawned upon the world, and the haredim – and all Jews – should
understand this and act accordingly.”