Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman responded to the storm sparked by his remark on Monday that Jewish law should be binding in the State of Israel, clarifying Tuesday that he meant that since the justice system is currently backed up, an alternative court system, referring to the rabbinical court system, could serve to relieve the pressure.
"I hear the calls from all directions," Neeman said at the Knesset plenum Tuesday, "and I want to point things in the right direction."
"It is difficult for me to accept the things that were attributed to me, as though I had said that the laws of this country should be replaced with Torah laws. Yesterday? I emphasized the importance of the rabbinical court system to the State of Israel. The Knesset is the legislator in Israel, and the interpretation of its laws is determined by the [civil] courts."
The justice minister reiterated his praise for the courts that "resolve financial disputes in accordance with the principles of Jewish law. The court system in Israel is backed up, and therefore, cases should be transferred to an alternative system."
On Monday, Army Radio quoted Neeman as having said that "step by step, we will bestow upon the citizens of Israel the laws of the Torah and we will turn Halakha into the binding law of the nation," at a Jewish law convention at the Regency hotel in Jerusalem, in the presence of many rabbis and rabbinical judges.
"We must bring back the heritage of our fathers to the nation of Israel," Neeman said. "The Torah has the complete solution to all of the questions we are dealing with," he added.
Neeman's statements during the conference were received with applause from participants, among them Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Other guests at the event included Likud MK Yisrael Katz, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.
Kadima chairwoman and opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Tuesday harshly criticized Neeman's comments, saying they should be troubling to "every citizen who cares about what happens in Israel in terms of its values and democracy."
Neman's remarks also drew criticism from left-wing politicians, including Meretz leader Haim Oron and Hadash chairman Mohammed Barakeh.
"It is unfortunate that the justice minister has detached himself from the state of Israel's basic values and is being disolyal to civic and national principles," Oron said on Tuesday, using a play on words on Neeman's name, which means "loyal" in Hebrew.
"His remarks reflect a disturbing process of 'Talibanization' occurring in Israeli society," Oron continued.
Barakeh called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to oust Neeman from his position, saying, "The man who sees his main role as establishing a fundamentalist Israel is a threat to the country's democracy."
A former cabinet minister, Amnon Rubinstein, said Neeman's plan "would amount to severing the majority of Israel" from the state, and mean most of Israel's judges would have to be replaced by rabbis.
In the wake of the uproar caused by his remarks, the Justice Ministry on Tuesday issued a statement denying that Neeman intends to replace Israel's legal system with Jewish law.
"Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman "wishes to clarify that these remarks were not a call for Jewish religious law to replace the laws of the State of Israel, either directly or indirectly," a statement from the ministry said.
"Minister Neeman spoke in broad and general terms about restoring the stature of Jewish law and about the importance of Jewish law to the life of the country."
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