Many state officials were stunned Tuesday morning by a statement made by Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, who said he wanted to "restore glory" to the judicial system in Israel by reinstating the law of the Torah.
"We must restore glory (to the judicial system), so that the justice of the Torah will be the justice commanded in the state of Israel," Ne'eman told a rabbinical conference in Jerusalem Monday evening.
He added that this would best be achieved slowly, and "step by step". Ne'eman said, "We must return to Israel the tradition of the forefathers, the first and last sayings of the Torah, in which there is a full solution for all things with which we are concerned."
Following the stir he caused, Ne'eman on Tuesday clarified that his statements didn't imply "a call to replace state laws with halachic laws, not directly or indirectly." His office issued a statement which read, "The minister spoke in broad terms on restoring the Jewish law and its importance in state life."
The rabbis attending the conference reacted with thunderous applause, but others who heard the statement were less enthused.
Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni said, "The statements should concern any citizen who cares about what happens in the State of Israel and in democracy."
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said, "This is a disgusting vision that will place Israel squarely in the heart of the third world. Minister Ne'eman's speech totally negates the values of Israel and Zionism."
Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron said, "It is sobering to see the justice minister estrange himself from the founding values of the State of Israel, and show disloyalty to the basic principles of statehood and citizenship. His announcements attest to a worrying process of talibanization of Israeli
Ne'eman's comments raised objections among the Arab parties as well. "The justice minister should be dismissed at once by the prime minister," Hadash Chairman MK Mohammad Barakeh said.
"The man who views the bulk of his role as creating a fundamental State of Israel is a danger to democracy. His statement on the Torah law is dangerous and in contract with the attitude of the majority of Israeli citizens," he added.
However, some support was expressed by Habayit Hayehudi chairman Minister Daniel Hershkowitz. "I congratulate Minister Ne'eman for his intention of basing the Israeli legal system on the staples of the Jewish law and injecting it with "Jewish soul," he said. "No one has a reason to fear Minister Ne'eman. One should be concerned with the legal system which does not aptly represent the variety of opinions of the Jewish people."
Kobi Nahshoni, Attila Somfalvi, Amnon Meranda, Roni Sofer and Sharon Roffe-Ofir contributed to this report