Orthodox rabbis: Rabbi Lior’s Shin Bet ruling ‘manipulation’ of Jewish law

Rabbi Donniel Hartman said that Lior’s ruling was “anti-Zionist” since he had elevated the sanctity of the Land of Israel above critical components of Jewish national sovereignty.

Rabbi Dov Lior (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Dov Lior
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Strong criticism has been voiced by two prominent figures in the moderate National-Religious and Modern Orthodox community against a ruling by Rabbi Dov Lior, in which he determined that far-right nationalists had acted correctly in violating the laws of Shabbat to assist Jewish terrorist suspects before they were interrogated by the Shin Bet internal security service.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the Tzohar rabbinical association’s ethics department, rejected Lior’s ruling, saying it was a “political manipulation” of Jewish law.
He also pointed out that those who had driven to the yeshiva had not been trained mental-health practitioners going to help prepare the suspects psychologically but far-right activists trying to instruct them about how to avoid admitting anything and how to remain silent when questioned by the Shin Bet.
Prominent Modern Orthodox Zionist leader Rabbi Donniel Hartman said Lior’s ruling was “anti-Zionist” since he had elevated the sanctity of the Land of Israel above critical components of Jewish national sovereignty, such as its state agencies and principles of the rule of law and democracy.
In October, Aysha Rabi a Palestinian mother of nine was killed when she was struck by a rock apparently hurled from the roadside while traveling with her husband in their car near the Tapuah junction in the West Bank.
It is suspected that Jewish youths from the Pri Haaretz yeshiva in the Rehalim settlement were responsible for the attack.
When far-right activists from the nearby Yitzhar settlement heard that Shin Bet officials were likely to enter the yeshiva to question suspects, they decided to violate the laws of Shabbat and drive to Rehalim to prepare them for the questioning.
Lior, from the hardline wing of the National-Religious community and one of its most senior arbiters of Jewish law, told the activists after the incident that they had been justified in breaking Shabbat because Shin Bet interrogations have led youths to try and commit suicide and that the Jewish law of saving a life allows the violation of Shabbat.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Cherlow said Lior’s rabbinic ruling was based on the assumption that the Shin Bet poses a real threat to the lives of those it interrogates, which he said was not based in fact.
Furthermore, Cherlow argued that the activists who drove to Pri Haaretz had not gone to provide psychological training to the suspects to help them avoid suicidal thoughts and actions, but to coach them as to how avoid saying anything incriminating to the Shin Bet.
Cherlow emphasized that he believes the Shin Bet has acted inappropriately in certain instances, as evidenced by a judge’s recent rejection of testimony by suspected far-right activists. Nevertheless, he said that Lior’s ruling still does not hold water since those who drove to the yeshiva were not mental health professionals and that Lior was therefore using Jewish law as a political tool.
“What is so damaging about this ruling is that it demonstrates to the Israeli public that you can politically manipulate Jewish law – that you can violate Shabbat to fight the authorities of the state,” said Cherlow.
“They didn’t send psychologists and psychiatrists. This argument isn’t honest and so the image given to Jewish law is that you can use it as political instrument for your own goals, and this is very problematic,” he said.
Hartman argued that Lior’s ruling reflected a religious philosophy that essentially turned the State of Israel into a tool for serving the holiness of the Land of Israel at the expense of all other religious and national values.
The rabbi contended that when people, such as Lior, make protecting and retaining the sanctity of the Land of Israel the only objective of the state, they are then able to justify actions against state agencies  if they believe those agencies are not advancing that goal.
“In this case, Rabbi Lior’s goal is not the furthering of the country but furthering control of the land,” said Hartman.
The rabbi argued that Jewish national sovereignty is itself a religious value and that the rebirth of this sovereignty in the State of Israel was dependent on protecting the rule of law, democracy and the state institutions that protect Jewish life in the state.
Undermining that sovereignty for one value, the holiness of the entire Land of Israel, is anti-Zionist and goes against the religious value of Jewish national sovereignty, he argued.
“It is a deeply anti-Zionist position, in which [they assume] Judaism requires me to hold on to the land instead of requiring me to support Jewish sovereignty, and takes precedence over the institutions of the state.”
Hartman also described Lior’s position as a “distorted and upside-down universe,” pointing out that Jewish law permits the violation of Shabbat while serving in the Shin Bet precisely because they are working to save Jewish lives, and that to claim that Jews can violate Shabbat to fight the Shin Bet was not a credible position.
Like Cherlow, Hartman did express reservations about the Shin Bet’s investigation and interrogation methods, criticizing in particular the policy in some cases – including in the case of the five teen suspects recently arrested – of denying suspects access to an attorney.
Hartman said that this practice should be halted in all but the most serious of terrorism cases.
He added, however, that Lior has not criticized Shin Bet practices in relation to their treatment of Palestinian suspects.
“When religious Zionism is fine with the way the Shin Bet operates apart from how it deals with Jews, then that duplicity is a symptom of serious failure,” said Hartman.