The riot in Jerusalem on Monday, sparked by the police detainment of Kiryat Arba-Hebron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, carried in its wake widespread condemnation over the right-wing protesters’ disregard for the rule of law.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday issued a statement saying, “Israel is a law-abiding country. The law binds all and all are subject to it.”
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“I call on all the country’s citizens to obey the law,” the prime minister said.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that while she didn’t like to see a rabbi taken into custody, Israel must preserve equality before the law.
“If we lose that foundation, we will lose the source of authority, which is the foundation of our joint lives. The Jewish Scriptures also state that the sovereign’s law is the law, and that tenet accompanied the Jewish people throughout their exile and must continue to direct us in the Jewish state,” Livni said.
Lior, 77, who was apprehended by the police on his way from Efrat to the capital and taken to Lod be questioned over his endorsement of a book titled Torat Hamelech
that deals with halachic permission to kill gentiles, was released after an hour and immediately joined the throngs of protesters at a demonstration at the entrance to Jerusalem.
The 2009 book by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the rabbi of Yitzhar, gives Jews permission to preemptively kill gentiles under certain conditions in wartime.
Throughout the day on Monday, hundreds of Lior’s supporters took to the streets, trying to block the entrance to the city. In another incident, they tried to storm the Supreme Court building. Demonstrations also took place outside the home of Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan.
Protesters scuffled with police and shouted slogans against the justice system, resulting in the arrest of 25 people.
The Justice Ministry released a statement saying that the detention order against Lior was issued with the full knowledge of the attorney-general and the state attorney after Lior failed to obey a police summons.
In an evening press conference, State Attorney Moshe Lador reiterated the justice system’s commitment to the rule of law.
“Rabbi Dov Lior was called in for a police investigation. No person, no citizen in Israel is above the law – not cabinet ministers, not a president, not a prime minister and not rabbis. If the [justice] system decided that Rabbi Lior has to be investigated, then he needs to be investigated,” Lador said.
According to a Justice Ministry statement, several discussions were held with the aim of allowing the rabbi to attend questioning in a discrete way, but when these met with negative responses, there was no option other than to issue an arrest warrant.
The Justice Ministry also condemned what it called “damaging personal attacks directed against Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan,” and registered its disappointment with “repeated attempts to discredit his work.”
Nitzan’s job is to oversee all offenses that have to do with expression, including incitement to violence and racism, regardless of the identity of the offenders, the ministry said.
Earlier on Tuesday, police were on high alert in case there was another day of protests over Lior’s arrest.
Twenty-four of the 25 people arrested on Monday were released on Tuesday under restricted conditions.
In a lecture to his yeshiva students on Tuesday, Lior said that the reason why he didn’t agree to report for questioning was that he believed he had committed no crime. He told his students that all he did was express his opinion on a book. He denied having incited violence.
Lior’s treatment by the police came under fire by many, including Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi (Shas) and dozens of Knesset members, who issued a letter to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, calling on him to disperse “the Shai Nitzan gang” for the manner in which they brought in the rabbi.
The recent resurgence of attention on the book has caused a leap in its sales, author Shapira said on Tuesday. Speaking to the Hakol Hayehudi website, Shapira noted that a third edition was on its way out due to the demand.
Shapira also said that he planned to publish more similar tractates, “which would show how the Rules of the King [In Hebrew, “Torat Hamelech
,” which is the name of the book] should dictate our actions, such as how to deal with the problems we have in Gaza and elsewhere. To write the things clearly, and implement them too,” he said.
It remains to be seen who would write a rabbinic endorsement for such a book.
The last person to write a rabbinic endorsement for Torat Hamelech
who has not yet been questioned by police is Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages. Yaakov Yosef was part of the celebrations after Lior was released by police on Monday night, in the capital’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, where he is the official rabbi. For over a year, Yosef has been ignoring a police summons for questioning.
“I have no doubt they will arrest him too,” his son Yonatan Yosef said on Tuesday.
“But why should he go for questioning? When university professors incite, are they interrogated?” he asked, citing Ben-Gurion University’s Dr. Eyal Nir, who recently urged people to break the necks of right-wing activists.
“This is study-hall discourse,” Yosef said of Torat Hamelech
. “The Torah itself says much more extreme things – like those who desecrate Shabbat must be killed. Does that mean that anyone who reads the weekly portion should be indicted for incitement? Everyone understands that there is a difference between the text and the actions; nobody thinks that religious people are going to go out and kill secular people for not keeping Shabbat.
“There is no reason for investigators to meddle in halachic issues, and
besides – it’s not rabbis who take people out to war, rather the
government and the army,” said Yosef.
“The whole point of this affair is to isolate the Orthodox population,
and keep it isolated as a law-breaking part of society, though this is
the public that leads the State of Israel,” he said.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.