Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman’s explicit and open declaration that Torah laws should be applied in the State of Israel in a phased manner exposes his aspiration for a revolution in Israel, no less. This is not “conscientious disobedience” or “civil disobedience,” but rather, a revolution, clear and simple. Just like the French or Russian revolution.
Allowing such man to serve as justice minister is like allowing someone who endorses theft from the public coffers to serve as finance minister, or allowing a person who endorses corruption by public officials to serve as attorney general.
Israel’s legal system is premised on democratic, liberal, and Zionist values. The democratic values are manifested, first and foremost, by the fact that every Israeli citizen takes part in the elections for the Knesset, and it is the Knesset that makes our laws. In this manner, every citizen equally takes part in legislation via their elected representatives.
The liberal values are manifested by the fact that our laws must apply to every citizen, with no regard to religion, creed, gender, descent, health condition, age, etc. They also aim to provide each citizen with as much freedom as possible to choose their desirable lifestyle. The law forcefully intervenes only when one person hurts another, or when the State needs its citizens’ contribution (for example, through military service or taxes) to survive. Laws do not always meet these liberal criteria, but that’s the aim.
The Zionist values are manifested, first and foremost, by defining the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s national home. They are manifested by the Law of Return, and by the preference given to Hebrew and Jewish holidays.
No equality in Jewish lawJewish laws are neither democratic nor liberal or Zionistic. Their source is seemingly divine, that is, metaphysically absolute and superior, and hence people cannot condition them upon anything. If the laws of the Torah rule that a person who ate in Yom Kippur or a man who engaged in sexual relations with another man should be put to death, even an absolute majority of civilian representatives cannot annul it (but rather, only present various reservations, as the sages of the Mishna and Talmud did.)
Jewish law is not liberal because it does not sanctify individual autonomy and does not hesitate to decide for whoever it classifies as a Jew what he must eat, what kind of sexual relations he is allowed to engaged in and when, and how he needs to act at every personal junction of his life. Jewish law does not believe in equality between all people, and imposes different laws for men and women, Jews and non-Jews, and all sorts of discriminatory categories such as “bastards.”
Finally, Jewish law is not Zionistic because it is not the result of a national and modern worldview, and it perceives the Jews as a religious sect, rather than as a nation in its contemporary meaning.
Jewish law is a fascinating cultural creation that can be enjoyed and studied as ancient law. We can quote it to embellish verdicts, and we can appreciate it when its values are commensurate with the democratic, liberal, and Zionist values of the State of Israel.
However, applying it as the State’s law would turn us into the Jewish version of Iran.
Dr. Orit Kamir is a law and gender lecturer and co-director of the Israeli Center for Human Dignity