Slip of the Tongue? / His Credo Snapped

Sometimes it's a slip of the tongue; it happens. Sometimes it's a bad choice of words; that, too, happens. But that's not the case this time. He knew exactly what he was saying, His Honor the minister of justice.

And now a thousand explanations and excuses and clarifications and words of reassurance will not be enough to extinguish the fire he lit. His words will continue to haunt him until the last day in his lofty office, they will haunt us as long as he remains there. And if such shameful words uttered by the justice minister do not cause him to resign and to sit at home, or at a private law firm, then some evil is bound to befall us; for we have become like Iran of the ayatollahs, like Afghanistan of the Taliban, and Sodom is no longer so bad.

"We must restore glory [to the judicial system], so that the law of the Torah will be the binding law in the State of Israel" is the key sentence, and it is also the key to the inner world of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, his spiritual heart and kidneys. His "I" leaped out of his ideology, his credo.

After all, "Torah law" requires us first of all to immediately restore the death penalty. Without it, we will not be able to punish with the full extent of the law, through stoning or burning, for adultery, sodomy and a multitude of other sins. This crown, that Neeman seeks to return, is a crown of thorns and thistles and prohibitions and sufferings and cruelties that are not from the world of justice.

And even if we were to replace "Torah law" with "halakha" - the full complement of Jewish religious law - we could still not relax, breathe a sigh of relief, we would still be choked and lacking air.

Which halakha, exactly? That of Beit Hillel or of Beit Shammai, the less strict or more strict, or, in contrast - that of Ovadia Yosef, according to whom one's mouth should not be muzzled; or that of Eliezer Melamed, the hesder yeshiva head who is calling for soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate settlements; or that of Yitzhak Ginsburg, author of a hagiography of Baruch Goldstein? This crazed land is filled with religious teachers, and every gang has its own rabbi.

There is no animal called halakha; there are many such animals, some of which are predators. We are as if devoured by evil beasts if these are our teachers, if these are our judges, and we shall no longer be able to perceive the coat of many colors of the "Jewish and democratic" state. Instead of judges in Jerusalem we will have a rabbinical court.

Who would want to live here? Who could? We've already given them more than enough authority to run our lives, from birth to marriage to the grave. And what of our conscience, with a rabbi forced upon it?

The voice of Neeman is not a voice calling in the political wilderness, it is a voice calling out from the cabinet.

The resounding echoes from yesterday had not even faded before the voice of another minister was heard, hurrying to identify with the justice minister and his vision. His name is Daniel Hershkowitz, and I believe he is the minister of science. There's an idea: Why should justice alone support the foundations of the Oral and Written Law, why shouldn't science do it too? Rabbis will replace not only the judges but also the scientists, and the sun will once again revolve around the earth and not vice versa.

These statements are grave and scary in and of themselves. But it is more frightening to think about what they reveal: fundamentalist impulses and Judeo-evangelist sensibilities. It is the nature of sensibilities in other cases as well - they neither change nor improve - when Neeman seeks to integrate Jewish law into the courts.

One can easily imagine what happened there at the conference. Minister Neeman glorying in the company so dear to him - hundreds of rabbis and rabbinical judges - he, arrogant and benevolent, is respectfully invited to the dais to speak. He wants to please them, to flatter them. He has no difficulty in dismissing the judicial system whose walls Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman appointed him to guard, as long as the rabbis approved of him, applauded him.

They applauded. Tired but happy he went to bed; he did his deed for the day. And he shall rise to applause at evening, and in the morning to scandal. And the evil spirit will take him.