Call on Israeli minister to resign over religious law


ISRAELI JUSTICE minister Yaakov Neeman faced calls to resign yesterday after suggesting Jewish religious law should be restored in Israel.

Addressing a gathering of rabbis in Jerusalem on Monday night, Mr Neeman said: “Step by step, we will bestow upon the citizens of Israel the laws of the Torah [Bible] and we will turn Halacha [Jewish religious law] into the binding law of the nation.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister, said Mr Neeman’s comments “should trouble every citizen who cares about what happens in Israel in terms of its values and democracy”.

Haim Oron, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, said the minister’s “declarations indicate a worrying process of ‘Talibanisation’ of Israeli society that has escalated to delusional levels”.

Another former justice minister, law professor Amnon Rubinstein, said: “The justice minister’s bid to turn Israel into a Halachic state is a revolution that will rob Israel of its character as a Jewish democratic state, and will nullify the Knesset parliament’s position as a force that represents the people’s sovereignty.”

With criticism mounting, Mr Neeman, who belongs to the mainstream national religious camp and not the more hardline ultra-orthodox sector, issued a statement downplaying the significance of his comments. He said he merely “spoke in broad terms of restoring Jewish law and its importance in state life”.

Later, addressing the Knesset, Mr Neeman claimed he was only advocating that in some financial issues rabbinical courts could take some of the burden off the state court system.

A delicate status quo exists in Israel on matters of religion and state. Some 80 per cent of the population is secular, but mainstream religious or ultra-orthodox parties have been part of every governing coalition since the state was founded in 1948.

Religious law takes precedence in matters such as marriage, divorce and burial, and most shops and entertainment venues are closed on Saturdays, the Jewish sabbath.

Although Mr Neeman’s comments were widely condemned across the political spectrum and among legal officials, some religious politicians came to his defence. Science and technology minister Daniel Hershkowitz applauded “his intention to base the Israeli legal system on Jewish law and give it a Jewish soul”.