Who’s disparaging the Torah?

As Rabbi Ariel Finkelstain notes, it is open intellectual exchange, in the free market of ideas, that is the best weapon against bigotry and racism.

Haredim in Bnei Brak (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim in Bnei Brak
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Kiryat Arba-Hebron Rabbi Dov Lior is not cooperating with law enforcement and he is receiving hardy support from laymen as well as lawmakers. About a thousand people, including MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), gathered outside the rabbi’s home in Kiryat Arba on Tuesday to protest what Lior called “the disparagement of the Torah” and what Ben-Ari called “McCarthyism.”
MK Yaakov Katz (NU) announced that “the Jewish people are embarrassed by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and police commanders for being overcome by their hatred for the Torah.”
What’s truly embarrassing is the moral support, including a written endorsement, that Lior has given to a morally repugnant book called Torat Hamelech which police are rightfully concerned could incite to murder.
In one particularly abhorrent example, the 230-page treatise, purportedly based on Halacha, 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.”
The two authors, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, who live and teach at the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva in Yitzhar, a hotbed of radicalism, do not specifically mention Palestinians. But the implication is clear. Nor do the two restrict their distorted, despicably essentialist view of non-Jews as not quite human to the enemy population.
“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. Similarly, one who weakens our kingdom, by speech and the like, is also considered an assailant.”
The Jewish underground, Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir come to mind. With lots of settlers with guns wandering around Yitzhar, the potential for disaster is real, particularly given that the authors, in a footnote at the very end of their book, advocate vigilante attacks even if they are not condoned by the IDF or other official state institutions.
Yet, since August of last year Lior, apparently assuming his rabbinical ordination places him above the law, has refused police requests to come to a police station for questioning. Unwilling to compromise its authority, the police has now issued an arrest warrant.
For the sake of a peaceful resolution, police might consider accepting Lior’s invitation, issued Tuesday, to conduct the questioning in his home, as long as it can be done professionally, though police would be justified for insisting that Lior receive no special treatment.
THE QUESTION remains whether Shapira and Elitzur should be charged with incitement to violence. In 1996, Rabbi Ido Elba published a 19-page “halachic” treatise that permitted the killing of non-Jews under certain circumstances.
The Supreme Court, in the shadow of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, upheld a Jerusalem District Court decision and he served a two-year jail term.
Nevertheless, it would be unwise for the judiciary to go down that road again, unless it could be proved that the two authors, Lior or others intended to incite to murder – no easy task.
A publicized court case would only further popularize the book and its authors. Discussion might be shifted from the book’s depraved contents to the issue of intellectual freedom or to the question of whether extreme statements on the Left advocating violence against settlers have been as vigorously prosecuted. More moderate rabbis who reject the authors’ conclusions might, nevertheless, defend their right to make them.
Rabbi of Ramat Gan Ya’acov Ariel put it best when he said that the battle against Torat Hamelech should not be waged “via declarations to the media, or via police investigations...rather by bringing to light true Halacha after in-depth research.”
And that is precisely what has happened. Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, a highly respected halachic authority, retracted his endorsement of the book after a reexamination.
Rabbis Benny Lau, Yaakov Meidan, Menachem Froman and Yoel Bin-Nun have all publicly rejected the book’s conclusions.
But the most impressive refutation of Torat Hamelech has come from a young rabbi from the Netivot-based Ahavat Yisrael Yeshiva. In over 100 pages of well-argued points, Ariel Finkelstain has taken apart Shapira’s and Elitzur’s claims, showing how they do not size up with Judaism’s moral and halachic teachings.
As Finkelstain noted, it is open intellectual exchange, in the free market of ideas, that is the best weapon against bigotry and racism. And that’s why books like Torat Hamelech get written at places like the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva, where intellectual openness and dialogue with the “outside world” are particularly lacking.