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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Din Rodef

In Israel "it is forbidden to say things that could lead to a civil war"
Labor Party faction leader Dalia Itzik called Wednesday on the attorney-general to launch an investigation against Jerusalem Old City Rabbi Avigdor Neventzal for incitement to violence after he told Israel Radio that anyone intending to give over parts of Israeli land falls under the halachic category of din rodef – someone who endangers life and thus can be killed if necessary in order to stop him.

That term has not been used in public discourse since the trial of Yigal Amir, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin.

Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz also said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who serves as religious affairs minister, should suspend him from his post.

Neventzal added, however, that the term is not applicable under present circumstances, since half the country supported the government's plan. Any action taken in accordance with din rodef would only lead to civil war, he explained.

Neventzal had originally given this opinion at a rabbinical conference Tuesday at the Givat Haro'eh outpost, which was then quoted the next day in Haaretz. Neventzal told The Jerusalem Post later that none of the rabbis there, among them the chief rabbis of Kiryat Arba and Beit El, had objected to his ruling.

During the radio interview, Neventzal said that he himself could not rule that Sharon fell under the category of rodef, since he is subject to non-hassidic haredi authority Rabbi Shalom Yosef Eliashiv, who had already ruled that Sharon was not.

Prof. Shmuel Sandler, holder of the Lainer Chair of Democracy and Civility at Bar-Ilan University, said the combination of Zionism and haredism that Neventzal represents is dangerous. "Neither Zionism nor fundamentalism is dangerous in itself, but a synthesis of the two can be combustible," he said.

He said that in this way Amir, whose family background is haredi, differs from Merkaz Harav graduates, for whom, in the classic national religious tradition, "the [Jewish] state is holy."

Prof. Yedidya Stern of the Bar-Ilan Law School and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute also saw the haredi element in Neventzal's profile as dangerous. The government has to guard free expression, no matter how extreme, Stern said, but once rabbis make halachic rulings that challenged society's norms, the government must take action.

However, in this particular case, Stern said he would not prosecute Neventzal as the rabbi had made clear that his halachic decision should not in any manner be implemented.

Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz of the Rabbinical Council of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, said that those who had spread the story nine years ago that rabbis, including himself, had given Amir halachic approval to kill Rabin, knew very well that it was untrue. "They only wished to blacken the honor of the rabbis. If it is not the function of rabbis to declare what is moral and what is not, then they have no function."

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin called for a discussion on the danger of "severe statements that are liable to cause extreme acts."

The debate is to be held at the request of Pines-Paz, who said there are people in Israeli society who are "preparing to sabotage the democratic decisions of the government by carrying out a political murder." Rivlin responded that decisions of the majority must be accepted, and it is forbidden to say things that could lead to a civil war.

Blows my mind that in Israel, religious Zionism could be considered "dangerous." Maybe there's some nuance I don't understand. Or maybe it's a very crazy country.

Doesn't oppression of opposition to the government -through censorship- reek of fascism? That's pretty scarey* stuff from my point of view, sitting here in America.

*scarey with an e = adj : so scary as to cause chills and shudders