Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar said Wednesday that officials and rabbis ignored his pleas several months ago to meet with him to prevent the shameful disrespect for Torah scholars involved in the police arresting Rabbis Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef for questioning about a controversial book on Jewish legal dilemmas in times of war.
Speaking with President Shimon Peres, who invited him for a discussion, Rabbi Amar, said he tried to arrange a meeting that "would have allowed the authorities to conduct their clarification with the rabbis and would have preserved the dignity of the rabbis and prevent the situation that occurred - a public conflict between the Rabbis and the authorities." The Chief Rabbi said that the authorities expressed interest in the proposal, but a meeting never materialized.
Rabbi Amar called on Israeli rabbis and public officials “to refrain from any statements that might be interpreted as extremist," intimating that these will be used against the religious community by those looking for ways to malign it.
The questioning of the rabbis by police the past week met with massive street protests from the national religious community as well as a demonstration that included Hareidi-religious Jews . Several Knesset Members from secular-based parties also said that the police showed disrespect for the rabbis’ honor by taking them out of their cars when they could have been questioned at home.
The rabbis had each written a “haskama” to the Torat HaMelech [King's Torah] book which concerns Jewish legal dilemmas, including the politically incorrect issue of priorities of Jews versus non-Jews in time of war. Leftists contended that the book contained incitement against non-Jews.
A “haskama” is a letter of approbation, but does not necessarily mean approval of the opinions of Jewish law expressed in a book. It attests to its halakhic coherence and the respect shown the author.
Their questioning by police also gave rise to statements asserting that Halakha, Jewish law, comes before the laws of the country when there is a non-solvable contradiction between them. This is true, and usually avoidable, but not relevant to the issue.
Mainstream journalists, most of whom are not knowledgeable in Jewish law, pounced on the reactions to try to make a black-and-white issue out of a complex matter. They charged that rabbis hold themselves to be beyond the law, whereas Rabbi Lior, for example, is a Holocaust survivor who heads a hesder yeshiva where he encourages students to enlist as combat soldiers.
Rabbi Amar raised another problem, that of young, less learned students who might also misunderstand writings and pronouncements. He diplomatically admonished rabbis and public officials to “distant themselves from extremism” in general, adding, “Rabbis are entrusted to uphold the honor of the Torah. Rabbis and public leaders must be careful what they say and avoid possible interpretations of extremism.
“I call on the public to distance itself from extremist statements that destroy the truth. Rabbis and public leaders must be careful in choosing their words so that youth will not be drawn into extremist actions.”
President Peres told Rabbi Amar, that everyone is equal before the rule of law, which is the basis of the establishment of Israeli society.” He was referring to the rabbis being subjected to police questioning, not to their writings, as Israel does not limit freedom of speech.