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Rabbi's Arrest Provokes New Friction Between Religion And Government In Israel

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RABBI DOV LIOR
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JERUSALEM -- The arrest of a prominent Israeli settler rabbi who endorsed a book sanctioning the killing of non-Jews under some conditions is sharpening the battle lines between some Jewish religious sages and the Israeli government.

After Rabbi Dov Lior, spiritual leader of the radical Kiryat Arba settlement in the West Bank, was detained and brought in for police questioning, hundreds of his followers, most of them teenagers, went on a rampage. Other rabbis fulminated against the idea that a rabbi could be arrested at all.

On the other side, secular Israelis complained that some rabbis in Israel think they are above the law.

Lior, a longtime symbol of religious and nationalist extremism, was brought in for questioning Monday after his car was stopped on a West Bank road. Lior, who was freed after a brief interrogation, accused officers of "Bolshevik" tactics.

Joining critics of his own government's action, the Minister of Religious Affairs, Yaakov Margi, raged that the rabbi, who is in his late 70s, was "abducted on his way to Jerusalem like the lowest criminal."

Lior was brought in Monday after ignoring a series of official police orders to report for interrogation.

His arrest angered supporters as a mark of disrespect for a venerated scholar.

Hundreds of disciples tried to block the road to the entrance to the city, snarling traffic at afternoon rush hour. Others tried to attack the Supreme Court. Hundreds besieged the home of a government official they thought was responsible for the arrest warrant.

The warrant had been pending for months in connection with a preface Lior wrote in support of a book, "The King's Teachings." The book quotes some religious sages as permitting, under certain conditions, the killing of non-Jews, including babies, "if there is a good chance they will grow up to be like their evil parents."

Police wanted to question Lior over the possibility that his endorsement of the book was incitement to murder.

Backers accused authorities of assaulting Lior's freedom of speech and complained that inflammatory statements by leftists against nationalist Israelis did not draw similar sanctions.

Critics of Lior and his camp saw a sign that some rabbis and their followers believe that secular law does not apply to them.

"Those who favor freedom of expression will of course find it difficult to accept as self evident the arrest of a person, any persona, for things that he said or wrote," read an editorial in Wednesday's Haaretz newspaper.

"But from the moment that the police decided to summon Rabbi Dov Lior to an investigation, he should have reported, even if he is firmly opposed to doing so, and taken advantage of every legitimate way of protesting against the claims against him," Haaretz wrote, calling for Lior's dismissal from his official, state-paid positions.

The Jerusalem Post wrote it was not clear that Lior committed a crime.

"He has, however, placed his rabbinic reputation behind a morally repugnant book" with "far-reaching and horrid implications, particularly in wartime settings," the newspaper said.

Lior told reporters afterward that he ignored the police orders to report for questioning because he considered them illegitimate.

Although respected in the religious nationalist community, Lior's teachings and commentaries have made him a polarizing figure in Israel for decades.

Following a shooting attack on a Jerusalem seminary in 2008, he ruled that Jewish law forbids employing and renting homes to Palestinians. He also praised Baruch Goldstein, the American immigrant doctor who massacred 29 Palestinians at a religious shrine in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994.

Some rabbis have repudiated "The King's Teachings," which doesn't explicitly mention Arabs or Palestinians.

On Wednesday, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported that a sequel to "The King's Teachings" was in the works. Its author, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, said he has sold more than 2,000 additional copies of "The King's Teachings" since Lior's arrest.

Shapira was arrested briefly for questioning about the book last year. No one has been charged.

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