When the book -- now in its third printing -- first appeared, there was an uproar. No rabbi protested, though quite a number discounted its religious argumentation. The Orthodox distanced themselves, if only on the ground that it violated the religious rule that forbids "provoking the Goyim."
Following public demand, the Attorney General started a criminal investigation against the author and the four signatories of the "haskama." They were called in for questioning, and most did appear and protested that they had had no time to read the book.
Lior, the text of whose "haskama" testified to the fact that he had read the book thoroughly, did not heed repeated summons to appear at the police station. He ignored them openly and contemptuously. This week the police reacted to the insult: they ambushed the rabbi on the "tunnel road" -- a road with several tunnels between Jerusalem and Hebron, reserved for Jews -- and arrested him. They did not handcuff him and put him in a police car, as they normally would, but replaced his driver with a police officer, who drove him straight to a police station. There he was politely questioned for an hour and set free.
The news of the arrest spread like wildfire throughout the settlements. Hundreds of the "Youth of the Hills" -- groups of young settlers who carry out pogroms and spit on the law -- gathered at the entrance to Jerusalem, battled with the police and cut the main road to the capital.
(I can't really complain about that, because I was the first to do so. In 1965, I was elected to the Knesset and Teddy Kollek was elected mayor of Jerusalem. One of the first things he did was to pander to the Orthodox and close whole neighborhoods on the Shabbat. One of the first things I did was to call on my supporters to protest. We closed the entrance to Jerusalem for some hours until we were forcibly removed.)
But closing roads and parading the released Lior triumphantly on their shoulders was not the only thing the young fanatics did. They also tried to storm the Supreme Court building. Why this building in particular? That requires some explanation.
THE ISRAELI right-wing, and especially the settlers and their rabbis, have long lists of hate objects. Some of these have been published. I have the honor of appearing on most. But the Supreme Court occupies a place high up, if not at the very top.
Why? The court has not covered itself with glory when dealing with the occupied territories. It has allowed the destruction of many Palestinian homes as retaliation for "terrorist" acts, approved "moderate" torture, assented to the "separation fence" (which was condemned by the international court), and generally positioned itself as an arm of the occupation.
But in some cases, the law has not enabled the court to wriggle out of its responsibilities. It has called for the demolition of "outposts" set up on private Palestinian property. It has forbidden "targeted killing" if the person could be arrested without risk, it has decreed that it is unlawful to prevent an Arab citizen from living in a village on state-owned land, and so on.
Each such decision drew a howl of rage from the rightists. But there is a deeper reason for the extreme antagonism.
UNLIKE MODERN Christianity, but very much like Islam, the Jewish religion is not just a matter between Man and God, but also a matter between Man and Man. It does not live in a quiet corner of public life. Religious law encompasses all aspects of public and private life. Therefore, for a pious Jew -- or Muslim -- the European idea of separation between state and religion is anathema.
The Jewish Halakha, like the Islamic Shari'a, regulates every single aspect of life. Whenever Jewish law clashes with Israeli law, which one should prevail? The one enacted by the democratically elected Knesset, which can be changed at any moment if the people want it, or the one handed down by God on Mount Sinai for all time, that cannot ever be changed (at most can be interpreted differently)?
Religious fanatics in Israel insist that religious law stands above the secular law (as in several Arab counties), and that the state courts have no jurisdiction over the clerics in matters that concern religion (as in Iran). When the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the most respected Orthodox rabbi easily mobilized 100,000 protesters in Jerusalem. For years now, religious cabinet ministers, law professors and politicians, as well as their political supporters, have been busy chipping away at the integrity, independence and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
This is the crux of the matter. The Attorney General considers a book calling for the killing of innocent children an act of criminal incitement. The rabbis and their supporters consider this an impertinent interference in a learned religious debate. There can be no real compromise between these two views.
For Israelis, this is not just an academic question. The entire religious community, with all its diverse factions, now belongs to the rightist, ultra-nationalist camp (except for pitiful little outposts like Reform and Conservative Jewry, who are the majority among American Jews). Transforming Israel into a Halakha state means castrating the democratic system and turning Israel into a second Iran governed by Jewish ayatollahs.
It will also make peace impossible for all time, since according to the rabbis all of the Holy Land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River belongs solely to the Jews, and giving the Goyim even an inch of it is a mortal sin, punishable by death. For this sin, Yitzhak Rabin was executed by the student of a religious university, a former settler.
Not the whole religious camp subscribes to the unrelenting extremism
of Rabbi Lior and his ilk. There are many other trends. But all of these
keep quiet. It is Lior, the rabbi who Possesses the Light, and his
like-minded colleagues, who chart the course.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).