Rabbis rally for freedom to interpret Torah
Rabbis rally for freedom to interpret Torah Israel news photo

Hundreds of rabbis met on Wednesday night in the Ramada hotel in Jerusalem in a display of support for rabbis who are facing a police summons over their support for the book “Torat HaMelekh” (The Torah of the King). They proclaimed that rabbis must be allowed to freely state their interpretations of Torah law just as university professors are allowed academic freedom to express controversial views, and that disputes should be handled within the halls of Torah study and not in the courtroom.

“I don't agree with the book, or with the approbation given to the book. We can debate that; the question is who takes part in the debate. The issue here is not the book, but the police summons given to the rabbis who gave their approbation to the book,” explained Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the rabbi of Ramat Gan.

“The question is who will decide which interpretation is correct or incorrect,” he continued. “Is a policeman the one who should investigate in this case? Israel has a Rabbinate, Israel has a Torah. If a rabbi says something and others think he is mistaken, rabbis more learned than him can clarify the matter... The clarification should be internal, and should not be carried out by rabbis with no connection to the subject at hand,” he added.

Rabbi Ariel stated that in his opinion, the book Torat HaMelekh did not accurately reflect the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, who is considered the father of religious Zionism. “After two thousand years of exile the people of Israel has learned a thing or two about force and the use of force,” he said, adding that the Jewish approach is to avoid both excessive force and passive surrender.

Torat HaMelekh was written by Rabbi Yitzchak Shapira, and contains his interpretations of Jewish law regarding the use of force when dealing with enemies. Rabbi Shapira was arrested three weeks ago, blindfolded, and accused of inciting to violence. He was then quickly released. Rabbi Dov Lior and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef were summoned by police as well, for having given the book their stamp of approval.

Rabbi Dov Lior, who has refused to be questioned by police regarding the book, said, “Rabbis are not like government officials or lecturers in university, who fill a certain role in exchange for a paycheck. Rabbis are chosen to relay the Torah's position.”

Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, said, “We're here tonight to protest the degradation of the Torah. When one sees a rabbi, the head of a yeshiva, being dragged to court in shackles – one wonders what are they [the police' thinking? Do they think the rabbi will run away?”