Analysis: Location is everything

Decision to hold protest against Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef's detainment across from Supreme Court highlights struggle within Orthodox establishment.

rabbi yaacov yosef_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
rabbi yaacov yosef_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The venue is almost misleading.
The huge demonstration – organizers boasted on Sunday night that the demand for buses exceeded 100 – planned for Monday evening across from the Supreme Court would seem to be a demonstration against the court, or the legal system it represents, for the “persecution” and “witch-hunt” against the spiritual leadership of the Right.
Supreme Court protest planned over rabbis’ detainment
The detainment of Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef on Sunday for a very brief questioning on the rabbinic endorsement he gave the book Torat Hamelech, nearly a week after Kiryat Arba-Hebron’s Chief Rabbi Dov Lior was taken in on the same grounds, will be at the heart of the protest at the court.
The demonstration, according to the organizers, will not deal with the content of the book, which rules that non-involved civilian gentiles may be killed during warfare. Rather it will reinforce the importance of Torah study, and the dignity due to rabbis.
In addition, the rabbis speaking at the event – including Lior and Yosef – will call on the legal system to “stop the condescending political campaign of shutting mouths, as is evident in the arrests of the rabbis and their interrogation for a rabbinic endorsement of a book dealing with halachic issues.”
It would almost appear as though the protesters will be asking the court for protection from the State Attorney’s Office.
The demonstration was planned before Yosef’s arrest, and will most likely be dominated by knitted kippas more characteristic to Lior’s followers, rather than the black ones affiliated with the haredi Yosef.
Both sectors of Orthodox Judaism have no doubt which is superior, Torah or the laws of the secular state. It goes without saying that God’s rules are far more important, and that a person committed to Halacha is expected to be willing to give his or her life for the laws of Torah, under certain circumstances.
Such commitment is not the norm for modern democracies.
But Lior’s followers, or perhaps the more dormant bulk of them, still see in the State of Israel “the beginning of our redemption,” as the Shabbat blessing for Israel goes. The art of quelling the constant potential for a clash between God’s rules and man’s seems to be rapidly disappearing from national-religious right-wing circles.
What is interesting to note is that the speakers from the Right – including rabbis such as Lior, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed and politicians such as MK Ya’acov Katz – didn’t speak out at Sunday’s rally for Yosef against the existence of a democratic state and its legal system, but rather claimed that it is deliberately seeking to harm the Right.
In other words, the system should remain intact, but be metamorphosed from within by “our” people, those who believe in God and have the right politics.
And both rabbis promised that this process is in the midst of happening – which is why the “others” are cracking down so hard now; but to no avail.
Law enforcement agencies did just about everything they could to avoid this head-on collision.
In February, police sources warned that they intended to detain Lior and Yosef if they continued to evade police requests for them to arrive for questioning over their endorsements of the controversial Torat Hamelech (King’s Torah) book, which states that non-Jews can be killed in certain situations during warfare.
The National Serious and International Crimes Unit (NSICU) launched an investigation into the book a year ago over suspicions that it contained incitement to racism, and for months, the probe had been stuck due to the refusal of the rabbis to cooperate. It is extremely rare for police to send out repeated requests to individuals to show up for questioning, and then to wait several months for replies.
Usually, if a person wanted for questioning ignores invitations to a police station, within a short period, officers are dispatched to pick them up and bring them in for interrogation.
But the NSICU, operating under the guidance of the police’s Investigations Branch head Cmdr. Yoav Seglovitch, has been aware of the explosive and highly sensitive nature of the investigation, and of the fact that it is being perceived by elements of the national-religious camp as a campaign of persecution against the rabbis. Due to that awareness, senior sources in the police say, the NSICU had agreed to put the investigation on a slow track, and to patiently wait for diplomatic attempts to come to an arrangement with the rabbis to pay off.
The police had offered the rabbis the opportunity to discreetly arrive for questioning, far from the sensationalist gaze of sections of the media. But, the sources maintain, the patience had finally ran out, resulting in the detainment of Lior last week and of Yosef on Sunday.
With the questioning stage of the investigation now complete, NSICU detectives will sift through the evidence, and they are expected to complete the investigation soon. It remains unknown whether the unit will recommend to state prosecutors to press charges against the rabbis.
Irrespective of the results of the inquiry, police believe that the total lack of cooperation from the rabbis has sent out a problematic message that the rule of law in this country can be belittled.