Israel Police commissioner Yochanan Danino tried talking tough Wednesday in the hopes of avoiding protests over the possible arrest of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, who refused a police summons for questioning pertaining to his endorsing a controversial halakhic discourse.
“The Torah is under investigation, and I have no intention of cooperating in an investigation of a book that is solely about Torah,” Rabbi Yosef told Arutz Sheva's Hebrew-language news service.
Earlier this week police arrested the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Dov Lior, for refusing a summons pertaining to an endorsement who wrote for the same discourse - a move that outraged the national religious public and led to angry protests.
The discourse, entitled Torat Hamelekh ("Torah of the King") is a discussion of Jewish laws pertaining to warfare and the torah attitude to killing non-Jews in battle. Rabbinic endorsement's of such discourses generally speak to the halakhic coherence of the work in question and do not necessarily imply agreement by those giving their endorsement.
Police say Torat Hamelekh contains opinions amounting to "incitement to violence" and "racism."
Speaking from a rank-awarding ceremony for new brigadier general police officers Wednesday, Danino said that the law is not discriminatory, and that enforcement does not favor any group in specific.
Rabbi Lior's arrest was criticized not only by religious protesters, national religious MKs, and Lior himself, but also by politicians across the political spectrum. Former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel described Rabbi Lior's arrest as "unwise."
“Freedom of expression is needed, especially for academics, teachers and rabbis,” he said.
Following Rabbi Yosef's refusal to appear at the National Serious and International Crimes Unit for questioning his arrest now appears likely, although it remains unknown when police plan to bring him into custody.
Should the arrest take place demonstrations by followers of Rabbi Yosef, a leader in the sephardic hareidi world, are considered a certainty by police. Clashes between members of the national religious community and police erupted on Monday, following the detainment and questioning of Rabbi Lior.
The rabbis are being investigated under suspicion of incitement for their endorsement of the 2009 book by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the rabbi of Yitzhar, which wrote it is permissable for Jewish soldiers to preemptively kill gentiles, including civilians, under a narrow set of circumstances in wartime.
"This is study-hall discourse,” Yosef's son Yonatan said of Torat Hamelech on Tuesday. “The Torah itself says much more extreme things – like those who desecrate Shabbat must be killed. Does that mean that anyone who reads the weekly portion should be indicted for incitement?"
Government officials were highly critical of the disturbances and riots that broke out following Rabbi Lior's arrest, and specifically of the rabbis' refusal to appear for questioning after being served with summons.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday issued a statement saying, “Israel is a law-abiding country. The law binds all and all are subject to it.”
“I call on all the country’s citizens to obey the law,” the prime minister said.
Civil rights observers, however, say Israel's incitement laws are written so broadly that they can easily be used by a sitting government to quash unpopular opinions and dissent.