Several days ago, Hebron’s police chief showed up at the home of Rabbi Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba. The officer informed Rabbi Lior that an arrest warrant had been issued. Should the rabbi agree to be interrogated, the warrant would be cancelled. On the spot Rabbi Lior responded, telling him that such questioning represented a “disgrace to the honor of the Torah” and that he would not cooperate with such humiliation.
Why are the police and prosecutor’s office chasing this 77-year-old righteous man? Born in Poland, Rabbi Lior arrived in Israel in 1948, shortly before the creation of the state of Israel. He studied under Rabbi Abraham Kook’s student Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria at Kfar HaRoe and later at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem under Rabbi Kook’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. He was considered one of the yeshiva’s most important students. During festive dancing on the Simchat Torah holiday, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda changed the words of a popular song; instead of “tov li, tov li, Toratecha” (Your Torah is good for me), he recited “Dov li, Dov li Toratecha,” paying his young student a great compliment.
In 1976 Rabbi Lior moved to the newly founded community of Kiryat Arba, where he was appointed rosh hayeshiva of the Kiryat Arba-Nir Yeshiva, working side by side with Rabbi Eliezer Waldman. Over the years the rabbi became known as a prominent Torah scholar. However, his teaching involved more than dry rabbinic rulings. He became an active leader in the movement to repopulate Judea, Samaria and Gaza. He spent many summer vacations in Gush Katif. With the rise of the left and the advent of Oslo and the Hebron Accords, he became an outspoken leader, blasting attempts to delegitimize the Israeli right.
He worked tirelessly against the Gush Katif expulsion, making frequent trips to that beleaguered area, giving hope and strength to the local population. He participated in prayer rallies and protests while providing Torah support via various rabbinic rulings needed during those struggles.
Some 25 years ago he was elected chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba. Later, he formed the Rabbinic Council for Judea and Samaria and was appointed its leader. He is widely considered be the preeminent rabbinical figure of the Nationalist-Zionist movement and one of the most significant scholarly rabbinical figures in Israel.
Frequently rabbis are requested to write a hascama, an approbation of a Torah book by a younger rabbi. Rabbi Lior, himself the author of thousands of Torah responsa as well as his own books dealing with Torah law, is also approached to write short introductions to Torah books.
So it was that a couple of years ago he agreed to write an approbation for a book titled Torat HaMelech. This scholarly work, written by two young rabbis, deals with relationships between Jews and non-Jews, particularly during situations dealing with life and death during war and other conflicts. Specifically, it details rulings by many Torah giants, from the Talmud down to the present.
Rabbi Lior was not the only Torah scholar asked to write an approbation for this book. Others include Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, also considered an authentic Torah giant; one of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s sons, Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef, a leading Sephardic Torah expert; and the well-known Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg.
Among other comments, Rabbi Lior praises the authors for writing such a comprehensive book and including the opinions of so many Torah commentators. He clarifies the significance of understanding Jewish law to its fullest, even when dealing with sensitive topics such as life and death.
As a result of his approbation, Rabbi Lior was accused of incitement and ordered to appear for police interrogation. In a filmed presentation to yeshiva students, Rabbi Lior explained that a rabbi must be able to freely express da’at Torah – that is, the Torah ruling on any given subject – even if that expression is not popular with others. He stressed that a rabbi must never fear to express Truth as it appears in the Torah, even if such a ruling could cause him damage:
“Limiting what a rabbi may say is comparable to Bolshevik regimes of Soviet Russia which would decide what people could think and what they could say . There are certain elements in society who lately want to oppress rabbis, ordering investigations and interrogations, in order to silence them from expressing Torah opinion and this directly contradicts what is known as democracy and freedom of expression. If there is freedom of expression, it must be for everyone. We haven’t heard of those preaching from mosques, inciting against the state of Israel, being arrested and interrogated “