The remedy for ‘Torat Hamelech’

"Refutation of Torat Hamelech cannot be via police investigations, but rather by bringing to light true Halacha after in-depth research."

Rabbi Dov Lior 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Rabbi Dov Lior 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Hundreds of religious demonstrators, apparently with no respect for the rule of law in a Jewish state that they consider to be much too secular, took to the streets on Monday to protest police detainment of Kiryat Arba-Hebron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior for questioning.
Incensed at what they considered to be the disgraceful treatment of a Torah scholar, demonstrators blocked intersections near the Supreme Court and the entrance to Jerusalem, inconveniencing hundreds of drivers and potentially endangering the lives of people in need of quick access to emergency medical treatment. Others gathered outside the home of Deputy Attorney-General Shai Nitzan to intimidate a government official thought to be responsible for an arrest warrant issued against Lior.
In all 17 protesters were arrested. More surprisingly, 20 lawmakers – including MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi (Shas) and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) sharply criticized police and prosecutors for treating Lior like “a common criminal.”
It is not at all clear that Lior has committed a crime. He has, however, placed his rabbinic reputation behind a morally repugnant book called Torat Hamelech (The King’s Torah), based on the essentialist premise that non-Jewish lives are inherently less valued in the eyes of God than Jewish lives – a premise that has far-reaching and horrid implications, particularly in war-time settings.
Many Israelis, particularly parents of soldiers, believe strongly that our troops should not endanger their own lives to save the lives of civilians on the enemy side in Gaza or Lebanon. Torat Hamelech goes much further. In one particularly abhorrent example, the 230-page treatise, based on the authors’ understanding of Jewish law, advocates the killing of innocent babies on the enemy side during warfare “if there is a good chance they will grow up to be like their evil parents.” In another example, Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur – teachers at the Od Yosef Hai (Joseph Still Lives) Yeshiva in Yitzhar, a settlement in Samaria – state that “every citizen of our kingdom who opposes us and who encourages [our enemies’] fighters or expresses satisfaction with their deeds is considered an assailant and may be killed.”
Nowhere in the book do the authors, hopelessly bogged down with uncompromising ethnocentrism and the idiosyncrasies of ancient sources written when the Jewish people were an embattled minority, seriously consider a broader moral perspective – such as what would happen if each nation in the world were to adopt a moral code like the one espoused in Torat Hamelech.
The publication of these conclusions, considered by the authors to be applicable in real-life situations, evidently constitute grounds for police suspicions that Lior and other rabbis who have given Torat Hamelech their approbation are engaging in incitement to murder – though the book makes no specific mention of Arabs or Palestinians.
Lior, apparently believing his rabbinic clout places him above the law, has been uncooperative with police attempts to question him in order to rule out incitement allegations. Since August of last year, the outspoken rabbi has rebuffed police requests to appear for questioning.
Even after a warrant was issued in February for his arrest, Lior continued to refuse to come to police headquarters, though he did offer to answer questions at his home in Kiryat Arba. Police did not take Lior up on his offer, perhaps out of concern that law enforcers would be confronted by the same sorts of individuals who blocked Jerusalem’s streets Monday. In the end Lior was arrested while driving along the road from Efrat to Jerusalem.
Though some citizens and lawmakers apparently think otherwise, the state prosecutor and the police have a duty to investigate suspicions of incitement, and if necessary to summon for questioning any citizen – even if he is a rabbi.
Nevertheless, in a Jewish state that respects not only the rule of law but also democratic principles, special care should be made not to stifle intellectual expression, even if the result is books like Torat Hamelech. In fact, the concept of free, open debate is an eminently Jewish idea. The Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Ya’akov Ariel made this point when he wrote last year that refutation of Torat Hamelech cannot be “via declarations to the media, or via police investigations... [but] rather by bringing to light true Halacha after in-depth research.”
And that is precisely what has happened in the year since the book was published. Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, a highly respected halachic authority, pulled his endorsement after a reexamination. Numerous other rabbinic authorities have rejected the book’s conclusions.
Ariel Finkelstain, a young rabbi from the Netivot-based Ahavat Yisrael (Love of Israel) Yeshiva, issued a 100-page refutation of Shapira’s and Elitzur’s claims.
The remedy for Torat Hamelech is not censorship or intimidation, but the eminently Jewish practice of open intellectual debate and exchange of opinion.