More Extreme, More Silent

Justice Minister's remarks about making Torah law the binding law in Israel, Rabbi Melamed calling on soldiers to disobey IDF orders, and the arson at the mosque in Yasuf are separate events, but each express the steadily increasing extremism in the national-religious camp.

Overtly, there's no connection between these three things: Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's remarks about making Torah law the binding law in Israel; Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of the Har Bracha hesder yeshiva calling on soldiers to disobey orders; and the arson at the mosque in Yasuf. Neeman probably would not agree with Melamed's notions, and Melamed would reject the conduct of the arsonists. Nevertheless, these separate events share a common denominator, each expressing steadily increasing extremism in the national-religious camp. This in itself is reason enough to reject each of them equally, although there are clear differences in their levels of seriousness.

There is no need to explain what's bad about burning mosques, but the problematic nature of Melamed's statements does, unfortunately, require elucidation. Even people who believe that removing settlements is totally wrong must take into account that widespread refusal by soldiers to do so would soon lead to a refusal by leftist soldiers to serve in the territories or guard settlements there. Dividing the army into those who obey right-wing orders and those who obey left-wing orders is a sure recipe for disaster for both the army and Israeli society. In terms of Jewish law, preventing such a situation could be defined as saving the life of the nation, and we all know that saving even an individual life permits one to disobey almost all of the Torah's prohibitions.

Neeman's remarks were very problematic. The cumulative experience in the sole area that has so far been placed under rabbinical justice - the laws of personal status - demonstrates that even most of the Orthodox public would not want "Torah law" to be the law of the land. After all, Orthodox women are leading the struggle against rabbinical rulings on husbands who refuse to grant divorces, while other Orthodox figures are fighting the inflexible conversion processes. Experience proves there's no basis for the assumption that if responsibility is given to the rabbis, they will interpret halakha in an enlightened manner.

Neeman's claim that his remarks were taken out of context should be seen as an acknowledgment that he erred and that he does not intend to do anything to implement his vision of Torah law as the law of the land. When he seriously meant to split the functions of the attorney general, he wasn't deterred by criticism and didn't say he was quoted out of context. However, a person of his stature should be more careful, especially when the religious establishment is rife with grave attempts to impose Jewish law.

Another worrying common denominator between these events is the Orthodox community's silent support for the extremists. Even people who don't like what Melamed and Neeman said are in no hurry to stand up and deplore them, and even after the mosque burning, the voices raised in condemnation were fewer and weaker than those raised after previous terrorist attacks by the far right. Since the disengagement, partly perhaps because of the ongoing verbal attacks on the national religious camp, many of its members prefer to close ranks with their fellows, in silence, rather than join in the criticism coming from the secular liberal camp, even when that criticism is justified. There is a self-fulfilling prophecy at work: The silence of the moderate Orthodox which causes the secular liberals to feel sweeping criticism of the entire Orthodox camp is indeed justified, although that sweeping criticism led to the closing of the Orthodox ranks.

The twofold conclusion: Public figures in the Orthodox camp must stick to a reasonable line when supporting or condemning something, without being influenced by criticism from secular liberals. But the secular liberals must to be more careful with their criticism, lest it lead to a closing of the ranks in the Orthodox camp, a situation that may give the left a short-term propaganda victory, but could lead to a long-term political and national rupture.