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Israeli Court Refers Case of Jailed Teen to Sanhedrin Court

The teenage activist jailed for 3 months for refusing to recognize the courts testified before a Sanhedrin court Friday in an unprecedented move.
By Ezra HaLevi
First Publish: 3/16/2008, 8:26 AM

Tzviya Sariel of Elon Moreh, who has been held in jail since December for refusing to recognize the authority of the secular court system, was allowed to testify before a Torah court set up by the nascent Sanhedrin Friday. The Sanhedrin Court for Matters of People and State ordered her immediate release.

The court, headed by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, heard Sariel’s testimony after a judge from Netanya’s Magistrates Court ordered that she be allowed to attend the hearing on the limits of the youth’s struggle against the Israeli judicial system. It is presumed that Netanya Magistrates Court Judge Smadar Kolander-Abramovitch hoped the Sanhedrin court would instruct Sariel to put and end to her struggle and recognize the civil courts.      

The Court For Matters of People and State also heard testimony from the girl’s mother, as well as Shmuel Medad of the Honenu legal assistance organization. The court concluded that Sariel’s right to refuse to recognize Israel’s current justice system is justified and ruled that the only limitation to the struggle is the ability of each individual to withstand the difficulties of prison. The court also ordered that Sariel be released immediately, without any limitations. "Every day and every hour that Tzvia Sariel spends behind bars is a wrongdoing to this girl," Rabbi Ariel ruled. "Justice demands to release her immediately. It is a serious stain on the judiciary system in Israel. According to the Torah law of Israel, we are demanding her immediate release without conditions and to erase the indictment." 

The hearing was marked by uncertainty over legal procedure, according to IsraelJustice.com. "Attorneys did not understand what role was given to the rabbinical court in a criminal case and whether the rabbis were granted any authority over the civil court judge who approved the procedure. Usually, Rabbinical courts are only authorized to hear cases that concern marriage and divorce. "There is a question of authorities," Honenu's Meidad explained.

Sariel was arrested in December and has been held for three months for allegedly pushing an Arab who entered her town to pick olives.  Judges decided to keep her in prison without formal charges after she refused to cooperate with the secular justice system.  Sariel, 18, remains in prison even after two Arab men, witnesses called by the prosecution, testified that she was not involved in the alleged physical assault.

Jabber Mahmoud Hussein, called to the stand by the Prosecution, said: "I managed to come to court twice, despite the fact that the accused didn't hit me or do anything bad to us at all...we are prepared to close this case because all we want is to harvest olives in peace."

Precedent: State of Israel Recognizes Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin court called for the establishment of a committee to act as bridge between the state's law and Torah law, in light of the legal precedent set by the Israeli court’s recognition of the court and its findings.

“It is no coincidence that the hearing took place on the anniversary of the passing of Moses our teacher, the father of Hebrew law, and close to the days of Purim, when it is said that the Jews reaccepted and affirmed their commitment to the law of the Torah,” a statement from the court said.

After the verdict was read, the court's rabbis, wrapped in prayer shawls, stood and recited the special prayers accepting the justice of the Almighty, according to IsraelJustice.com: "Everyone in the courtroom followed in a loud chant to say the words, 'Hear O' Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One,' despite an attempt by prison guards to prevent supporters, including Ruth Sariel, Tzvia's mother, from entering the hearing."

Following the hearing, the officials present from the Prisons Authority affirmed their commitment to carry out the verdict of the Sanhedrin court. Prisons' Authority warden Hila Furis reportedly told those present: “The Prisons' Authority recognizes the authority of the [Sanhedrin] court and will act to implement the verdict.” They removed Sariel's leg restraints and claimed she was being brought to the Ramle Magistrates court, where she would be released before the Sabbath.

Sariel was returned to Neve Tirza Prison, however, where she spent the Sabbath. Her parents say she has been placed in solitary confinement. Rabbi Ariel said the court would continue to follow the case and work for Sariel’s release, in accordance with the directives of the Netanya court.

The nascent Sanhedrin, headed by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, was established in 2004, with the renewal of Semikha (ordination) in order to create the infrastructure necessary to fulfill the Torah obligation of reestablishing the supreme Jewish legal body of 71 Torah scholars. The Court for People and State has been one of the most active projects of the nascent Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin court is not, as of yet, universally accepted, even among the many streams of observant Judaism. Those now participating are committed to stepping aside when greater or more prominent scholars take their seats.

Click here for an interview with three girls recently released from prison despite their refusal to recognize the court system.