Questioned Rabbi: State Laws Not Always Binding

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, suspected of incitement over endorsement of controversial book 'Torat Hamelech,' which justifies killing of non-Jews, speaks at right-wing demonstration in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, who was detained for questioning by police on suspicion of incitement Sunday, said yesterday that the Talmudic dictum that Jews should abide by the laws of the country in which they live applies only "if everyone is equal under the law."

Yosef, who is suspected of incitement over his endorsement of the controversial book "Torat Hamelech," which justifies the killing of non-Jews, was speaking at a right-wing demonstration in front of the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem.

"We religious people have always tried to follow the rule that the law of the land is the law," Yosef, a son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said at the rally. "But in recent years there are those who have been trying to destroy this bridge."

Police arrested four adults and a minor at the protest, which drew about 1,500 participants.

Kiryat Arba Rabbi Dov Lior, who was questioned last week about his endorsement of the book, said at the demonstration that rabbis should not be afraid to express their opinion - "not even if it involves a certain risk."

"The words of Torah must not be falsified," he said.

Rabbi Zalman Melamed of the settlement of Beit El, among the few settler rabbis present, said he hoped "wise men would sit on the Supreme Court and men of Torah in the State Prosecutor's Office."

A call by Rabbi Chaim Druckman for "order in the State Prosecutor's Office" brought cheers from the crowd.

"They say everyone is equal before the law," said Druckman, considered a representative of mainstream religious Zionism. "If only that were so."

He quoted from a 2001 Haaretz opinion piece in which Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell called on Palestinians to harm settlers, and asked: "Is that incitement or is it not incitement? Was he summoned for questioning?"

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein yesterday backed up the decision to question the rabbis, which is part of an anti-incitement effort by an inter-ministerial task force headed by Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

In a letter to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Weinstein wrote that the task force's work was not meant to "cast aspersions on Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, because clearly in general these are law-abiding citizens."

He wrote that the task force was dealing with incitement "both on the right and the left sides of the map" and that all decisions about suspected incitement "are made after discussions in my office and with my agreement."