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Proposed Law to Ban Rabbis from Speaking Against Government

Group representing hundreds of rabbis accuses gov't of trying to forestall rabbis' criticism of impending deal with the PA.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 1/31/2014, 3:26 PM

Rabbinical Congress for Peace conference (illustration)
Rabbinical Congress for Peace conference (illustration)
Rabbinical Congress for Peace

The Rabbinical Congress for Peace (RCP), which comprises over 350 prominent Israeli rabbis, has slammed reports that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Minister for Religious Affairs, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Dahan, are drafting a law to prevent rabbis who receive state salaries from criticizing the government, branding the measure "anti-Jewish, anti-democratic and mindless."

"This is an all time low. Even in the darkest years of Communist Russia the Soviets refrained from prohibiting the rabbis they designated to speak the word of Torah," read the RCP statement.

Apart from preventing rabbis employed by the state from opposing official government policy, the law being drafted also says that a rabbi will not be able to come out against the decision of a government ministry or minister. The RCP pointed out that such a measure was an impossible restriction on rabbis' ability to effectively and honestly rule in matter of Jewish law; for example, if a minister decides to allow public transportation on the Sabbath (which is forbidden by Jewish law) and a rabbi comes out against it he will be fired.

The rabbis conveyed a sharp message to Livni and Ben Dahan that the law, in their words "demonstrates basic ignorance not only in Jewish Law and the basic tenets of Judaism, but they lack the basic knowledge of the law regarding a rabbi.

"A rabbi who declares that he will not be linked to the Torah but to the government is not a rabbi. Furthermore, the government doesn’t pay the rabbi’s salary to express the government’s laws that change from time to time. This is the job of the legal system. A rabbi’s function is to teach the word of Torah and Jewish Law that existed way before the establishment of the state."

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed and hence himself a state employee who would be effected by the law, called on all rabbis in Israel to stand up against what he called "the trampling of the Torah," and criticized liberal and left-wing institutions for their sudden silence on an issue relating to freedom of speech.

"Where are all the champions of democracy and freedom of speech now when they want to pass a law to shut the mouths of rabbis and community leaders? Do Livni and Ben Dahan think that if they will pass a law that advocates the marriage of a Jew and non Jew a rabbi will be forbidden to say this is forbidden by Torah Law?

"Why can any Arab who is an enemy of the state of Israel say what he wants? Why does a university professor have a right to attack government institutions and promote boycotts against Israel? Why do the media and journalists have the right to incite against people and communities, but only rabbis are forbidden to state their opinion? This is absolutely ridiculous?"

Rabbi Eliyahu led a mass prayer-rally at the Kotel (Western Wall) yesterday, called in response to reports that the Israeli government could be considering ceding territory to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as part of US-sponsored negotiations. Some see the pending law in question as an attempt to stifle criticism of any future deals with the PA by religious leaders.

The Rabbinical Congress For Peace further noted that when prominent rabbis came out in opposition to the Oslo Accords based on Jewish laws which forbid the ceding of territory, legal experts supported by the then Attorney General determined that not only do rabbis have the right to state the Torah view but they are obligated to do so, and that not doing so would constitute a failure of their basic mission.

Rabbi Joseph Gerlitzky, Rabbi of Central Tel Aviv and Chairman of the RCP said "it is very transparent that this anti-democratic and anti-religious law comes now in order to prepare the grounds to implement the dangerous agreement that is now being drawn up behind the scenes under the guidance of Secretary of State John Kerry."

"I want to make it very clear," said Rabbi Gerlitzky, "Rabbis throughout the ages were never deterred from proclaiming the word of G-d, despite suffering and persecution; it is therefore foolish to think that they will be dissuaded today by the threat of withholding their salaries. We call upon Ministers Livni and Ben Dahan to retract from this mindless law. 

"We are convinced that just as the attempts of enemies over the centuries to silence our Torah teachers have failed, we rest assured that the current mindless attempt to silence Torah teachers will likewise fail."