Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, author of the Pninei Halakha series on Jewish law, was asked by INN about the controversy over the halakhic book "Torat Hamelech" that had police stopping Hevron's revered Rav Lior on the road to arrest him, leading to spontaneous protests all over the country.
INN: Why does the religious public demand extra privileges for rabbis? Why shouldn't rabbis who have been summoned for police investigation show-up just like any other citizen? Even the Prime Minister and the President have been investigated, so why should the rabbis be dealt with 'kid gloves'? Don't you feel there should be equality before the law?
Rav Eliezer Melamed: Had a rabbi been suspected of committing a crime, we wouldn't maintain that he shouldn't appear for questioning. However, in this case, rabbis engaged themselves in the study of Torah, loyally fulfilling their duty towards the Torah and the public they represent. This is not a subject for investigation. In the field of Torah study, rabbis are entitled to immunity from the law.
Rabbi Melamed explains: There are three reasons for the rabbis' refusal to be investigated – each of which can stand on its own.
The first is outright persecution, because there is just no reason to investigate the rabbis. The book, "Torat HaMelech", including its approbations, was plainly published and made available for all to read – even the police and Attorney General.
If, according to their views, something is illegal, they can do something about it. If there is nothing illegal – they should be silent. So why must the rabbis be brought in for investigation under warning?
The only probable motive is the desire of the Attorney General’s office to humiliate and frighten the rabbis. The office, which is controlled by people from the extreme left, persecuted the rabbis, publically slandered their names and portrayed them as criminals and inciters.
The Attorney General’s office is exploiting its official, government function in order to promote its political positions. Agreeing to be investigated constitutes acquiescence to the discrimination on the part of the State attorney's and interrogators.
INN: What is the second reason?
Rav E.M: Discrimination. People on the political left incite publicly against residents of Judea and Samaria, call for the public and government agencies to harm them, to “break their bones”, and “destroy their houses”.
The Attorney General’s office refrains from bringing them to trial, and many of them come from the world of academia, authors, and artists.
On the other hand, there is a special unit within the Attorney General’s office whose job is which goes after right-wing Jews over much less significant remarks – with their crosshairs set on the rabbis.
INN: Doesn’t one have to obey the laws of the land?
Rav E.M: There is a 'halachic' rule: "Dina d'malchuta dina" [the law of the land is the binding law] (Tractate Nedarim 28a).
However, the 'poskim' (arbiters of Jewish law) have written that this rule is binding only when the law and its enforcement is equally imposed.
In a case of obvious discrimination, one is not obligated to obey the law, for it is not 'the law of the land', but rather 'the injustice of the land' (see Ramban and Nimukei Yosef on Baba Batra 54b; Ritva on Nedarim).
Had the government taken a poll, asking the public whether a special unit should be established to enforce the law – specifically against the “settlers” – undoubtedly they would not have a majority.
There were periods of time when Jews were trampled upon, lacking the power to openly rebel against discriminatory laws. But here in the Land of Israel, can we possibly consent to such an outrageous and blatant injustice?
INN: And the third reason?
Rav E.M: The question at issue is: In a contradiction between the Torah and the law, which comes first? Individuals on the left, including Tzippy Livni, head of the 'Kadima' Party, demand that the State Attorney and the police forcibly bring the rabbis in for questioning, in order to make clear that the law is above the Torah.
This being the case, we are compelled to explain in simple terms that the command of the Torah is above all laws.
Our forefather Abraham was ready to forsake his instinctive, fatherly love for his child, binding his one and only son on the altar – because that's what G-d commanded him to do. Even before this, he was willing to descend into the burning furnace, not paying attention to the accepted law of worshiping idols.
Since then, in every generation, Jews have been ready to sacrifice their lives to guard the Torah. Never did they agree to accept any other law over the Torah. Even the king of Israel is subject to the Torah, as Yehoshua the son of Nun was told.
The Rambam (Laws of Kings 3:9) wrote: "If the king decreed to cancel a mitzvah, he is not listened to."
This foundation – that the religious-conscientious decree stands above the law – was revealed in the world by the nation of Israel, and over time, has become the inheritance of decent people throughout the world.
Someone who thinks that man-made laws stand above one's conscience is an extremely dangerous person. He will collaborate with any dictatorship. He is ready to inform on his father and mother, and to disgrace the Torah.
INN: So religious people can reject laws?
Rav E.M: The majority of the non-religious public also agrees that one's conscience comes before the law. When non-religious people demand that rabbis who refuse to bow down before the law be put on trial, they do not do this because the law, in itself, is dear to them, rather, because current laws agree with their personal philosophy of life.
In their eyes, a law that contradicts their world-view isn't so "holy" any more. Notice what has happened to all the laws concerning the Sabbath or abortions. And who brought upon us the cursed Oslo Agreements – knowingly and willfully – if not as a result of the breaking the law on meeting with the PLO?
INN: Do the media have a part in this?
Rav E.M: The media was outraged by the "severe rioting" after the arrest of our teacher and leader, Rabbi Dov Lior, shlita ["may he have a long life," written after a rabbinic scholar's name - Ed.], and therefore they demand that the police deal with the demonstrators with an iron fist.
Exactly what "riots" were they referring to? Some of the public, in whose name and sake Rav Lior speaks for, went to greet him and to protest his falling prey to police persecution. What did they destroy? What did they burn? Whom did they seek to hurt? The fact is that all of those arrested were immediately released the next day.
The day before this all occurred, in another neighborhood of Jerusalem, a Jew got lost while driving and drove less than a mile away from the main road. Arabs attacked him, attempting to kill him for no reason at all, other than his being Jewish.
The 'muhktar', or head of the village, was able to prevent the murder, clearly understanding that if a Jew was killed in his village, his residents would pay the price.
Not one of the media who had tongue-lashed the religious "rioters" demanded that the police impose order in Arab neighborhoods.
INN: How should we deal with civilian populations who support terror?
Rav E.M: From its very establishment, the State of Israel has had to contend with the Arab enemy. After realizing that it would be difficult for them to destroy us in a regular war, the Arabs proceeded to terrorist actions. They know that we don't want to hurt citizens who do not take part in the war; therefore, they choose to hide amongst them, conducting their war of terrorism against us from within the civilian population.
The normal, ethical person finds it difficult to cope with such warfare. The left has said it is preferable for our soldiers to be killed than to harm civilian surroundings. This is how the judicial system succeeded in abolishing the targeted assassinations.
The question at hand is: what can be done, from an ethical point of view, against such an enemy? If we could kill only those who plot to harm us – that would be ideal. But in reality, they use their family members, neighbors, kindergartens, and hospitals as human shields. Is it permitted to strike those surrounding them, thus preventing terrorist attacks, or must we avoid harming them, even though, as a result of this, we will have to bury our own dead soldiers and citizens?
The book "Torat HaMelech" is part of this important discussion. It has no conclusions. It is not a book of halakha, Jewish law, but a reference book written in a scholarly style.
It is clear that what the media attributes to it is a complete lie. The book does not call for genocide, or the killing of innocent Arabs. The basic motivation behind it is to clarify the Torah/ethical question with regard to striking civilian surroundings used as shelter for terrorists in times of war.
In general, it can be said that the international law worded in the Geneva Conventions in regards to the laws of war, is not far from the position of the rabbis. Watch how the NATO forces and the Americans strike civilians during combat operations.
INN: And in conclusion?
Rav E.M: As part of the war of opinions here in Israel, the State Attorney's office, mainstream media and the left, seek to slander and accuse the rabbis of a blood libel, as though they support the murder of non-Jews. As if this wasn't enough, there were those not satisfied until claiming that the rabbis supported no less than genocide!
This, for example, is what professor Amnon Rubinstein claimed in a live interview broadcast on national radio. One needs nerves made of iron not to blow up from anger over such anti-Semitic slander. The entire world hears this and this is why the public is so angry and defiant.
Out of a sense of public responsibility, the rabbis and educators attempt to divert the abundance of anger towards constructive channels. However, when one starts to think and remember the terrible injustices of the State Attorney's office and the courts, the anger returns.
Our consolation is that, just as the lofty and noble ideas of the Torah of Israel defeated idolatry, corrupt Hellenism, and rampant anti-Semitism, so too, will it overcome this wave of destroyers from within our own people. The more independent and uncompromising we are in realizing the truth and morality within our Torah, the quicker we will merit the complete Redemption.
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed is the Dean of Yeshiva Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law. Rabbi Melamed is one of the most active leaders amongst the religious-Zionist public. This article was translated from his popular weekly column "Revivim" which appears in the "Besheva" newspaper. According to official media surveys, his column is the most widely read editorial amongst the religious and ultra-Orthodox public in Israel.