Yitzhak Shapira - Olivier Fitoussi - January 27, 2010
Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira last year, after being arrested for alleged connection with a mosque arson. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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The ministerial committee on legislation yesterday unanimously voted down a bill that would grant rabbis immunity to prosecution for incitement based on their published opinions on religious matters.

The bill would have shielded rabbis from criminal responsibility for published works or for both written and oral opinions on their published works.

In other words, rabbis would be safe from any legal action in connection with any such publication "involving the Torah."

The bill follows such recent publications as "Torat Hamelech" (The King's Torah ) by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, which discusses Jewish law in terms of permitting the killing of non-Jews.

Police investigated Rabbi Shapira regarding the publication and possible incitement, while rabbis Dov Lior and Ya'akov Yosef refused to be questioned by the police about the approval they expressed of the book.

The initiators of the bill included MKs Michal Ben Ari and Uri Ariel (National Union ), Avraham Michaeli (Shas ) and Tzipi Hotovely (Likud ).

Ben Ari slammed yesterday's rejection of the bill as giving "a green light to the continued persecution by the state prosecution of rabbis and Jewish law, while academics and leftists continue their incitement without fear."

According to the explanatory notes appended to the bill, it came about "due to the harsh feeling in the Torah world that various elements in law enforcement in the State of Israel have made it their goal to prevent the rabbis of Israel from publishing the opinion of Torah on matters on the agenda. It is no secret that in recent months dozens of rabbis have been called in for questioning because of their publication of halakhic (Jewish law ) works or their agreement with articles, and even for answers given to questions asked by the public at large on matters of Torah."

The lawmakers who wrote the bill said further that in their view, "writers, artists and various academics enjoy academic and artistic freedom from the State Prosecutor's Office, in the name of which they publish articles and petitions, mount exhibits and express their opinions without hindrance, although they contain elements of incitement against an individual or a group."

The MKs said that in contrast to the way they believe the state prosecution treats academics and artists, it persecutes rabbis in a bid to silence them "and to bend the eternal Jewish halakha to the approval of the state prosecution."