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Crossing red lines February 11, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Democracy, Freedom, Religion.
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The police have been questioning several rabbis who wrote or endorsed the book The King’s Torah, which purports to present the Jewish “Laws of Life and Death between Israel and the Nations”:

“The prohibition ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’” applies only “to a Jew who kills a Jew,” … Non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks on them “curb their evil inclination,” while babies and children of Israel’s enemies may be killed since “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.”

Many rabbis who condemn the book’s contents, are nevertheless enraged over the police investigation, claiming that it violates freedom of expression. Thousands of people have rallied in support of Rabbi Dov Lior (who endorsed the book) — a warrant for his arrest was issued after he refused to appear for questioning.

“If the state declares that rabbis are not allowed to voice a political opinion, it will be like in the Soviet Union, where there were commissars who said what was allowed and what was forbidden,” Lior said at the rally. “It is inconceivable that a little official in the Justice Ministry can say what rabbis are permitted to do.” …

[MK Michael Ben Ari] added: “Issuing an arrest warrant against a great Torah figure of such magnitude, when all this is about is the backing he gave to a book, is a crossing of a red line, McCarthyism … Would they have behaved this way against an academic of the left?”

Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, a settlement leader and former Knesset member, said the rally was to “protest the desecration of the soul of the State of Israel. Rabbis are the soul of the state. Their dignity must not be harmed.”

First of all, it is always nice to hear rabbis supporting freedom of expression, which is a modern, secular value — in the Bible, criticizing your leaders gets you killed. But the rabbis have apparently failed to understand another fundamental democratic principle: rule of law. Freedom of expression can rightfully be limited when it conflicts with other rights — as in cases of incitement to violence. And if the law has been broken, then no one deserves special allowances because of who he is, or because his motivation happened to be religious. If anything, since rabbis are community leaders whose words can have great impact, one would expect them to be held (and to hold themselves) to a higher standard.

We can only stand in awe at the hypocrisy of those who go ballistic over the slightest infringement of their own freedom or dignity, but care nothing for the rights of others (such as the right not to be discriminated against or killed just because of your nationality). One might almost think the Torah is not such a good source of moral guidance after all.

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