Israel discusses rabbis’ arrest and endorsement of book justifying the killing of non-Jews

President Shimon Peres and the country’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar have met in Jerusalem  to discuss the controversy surrounding the book ‘Kings Torah’. Both men agreed to join forces "to preserve the rule of the law and protect the honor of the Torah." At the beginning of the meeting, Peres stressed: "The rule of law is the foundation of our existence, and all are equal before the law.

"The rabbis of Israel, as the public's spiritual leaders, have a great responsibility to protect these principles, and to avoid making extreme statements and commentaries that hurt the moral strength of Israeli people, state and Torah," the president declared according to the news service ‘YNet’. Peres and Amar agreed to work together to settle the affair.

Their meeting came days after two rabbis – Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef – were held and questioned by police over their endorsement of  ‘King’s Torah’, which reportedly argues that Jewish law permits the killing of non-Jews during wartime and says that even the children of Israel's enemies may be killed under certain circumstances since "it is clear that they will grow to harm us." The book also claims that non-Jews are "uncompassionate by nature" and that attacks on them "curb their evil inclination."

Both rabbis (pictured on the left) said they had become victims of Israel’s justice system which sought to limit their authority by refusing to accept opinions based on scripture and rabbinic tradition. Their supporters argue that the arrests could set a dangerous precedent that would clamp down on rabbinical opinion in the name of the fight against racism.

Israeli political leaders were quick to condemn the attitude of the rabbis and their followers. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni told ‘Army Radio’ that they were acting as a group which "refuses to recognize the authority of judges and wants to replace them with rabbis." Their actions, she argued, hit "at the roots of the State of Israel", which defines itself by law as Jewish and democratic. "Israel is country of law and order," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Sunday, implicitly criticizing the attitude of the two rabbis. "Nobody in Israel is above the law, and I demand that each and every citizen respect the law," he told cabinet ministers.

Even Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party Shas and father of Yaakov Yosef, was critical of his son's attitude to the police. "Why does this idiot not respond to a police summons," he was quoted as saying by the main Israeli newspapers.

Following Yosef's arrest on Sunday, around 1,000 of his supporters took to the streets of Jerusalem, burning bins and blocking roads before being dispersed by mounted police. And on Monday, around 2,000 people assembled outside the Supreme Court to protest against the arrests. "I have come here to bring the message that the laws of the Torah are above the laws" of the state, said Shmuel Eliyahu, a rabbi from the town of Safed in the Galilee, which is an important center of Jewish mysticism.

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