As the furious clashes between left and right over the possibility that a unity government of anti-Netanyahu parties could unseat the PM after 12 years in office, right-wing media outlets on Monday morning discovered a small pot of political gold: back in 2019, then-Meretz chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg submitted legislation that threatened Imprisonment for anyone who solicits minors to come closer to Judaism. Zanberg then recently resubmitted the bill for debate in the Knesset on May 18, 2021.
As the right-wing news website 0404 put it: “It bothers Zandberg that the dear Chabad Chassidim offer passers-by to put on tefillin; it bothers her that Garinei Torah strive to give a Jewish child the merit of going up to the Torah at least once in his life; it bothers her that Jews are asked to complete a minyan, or that Jews are offered to study Torah.”
Which the website followed with the dire prediction that “in the ‘healing and unity’ government of Bennett-Lapid-Michaeli, and Horowitz, anyone who dares to offer Judaism to minors will be thrown to jail.”
And Likud MK Shlomo Karhi compared Zandberg to Haman and warned Bennett that whatever disgrace his government may bring, it’s all on his head.
On November 11, 2019, MK Zandberg initially submitted an amendment to the Penal Code titled Amendment – Prohibition of Soliciting Minors to do Teshuvah. Back then it had the chance of a snowball to put on tefillin in hell to pass.
Today, should the Bennett-Lapid coalition government which includes Meretz make it through a Knesset no-confidence vote, and should Zandberg opt to re-submit it, the bill would still have about the same realistic chances of that repentant snowball. For one thing, the new government is founded on an agreement not to touch controversial wedge issues; second: at least 12 votes within the government would be cast against it, and most likely also the votes of the Islamist party Ra’am which would like to continue soliciting secular Arab teens to come to the mosque more often, thank you very much; and third: the entire opposition right-wing bloc would rile against it.
Having said that, let’s examine what the Zandberg amendment says:
Anyone who persuades a minor to do teshuvah or take another action, directly or indirectly, which may bring about the teshuvah of a minor without the presence and approval of his parents, in a manner that infringes on the authority of the parents as defined in sections 14 and 15 of the Legal Qualifications and Guardianship Law, 1962, will receive six months’ imprisonment; for the purposes of this section, ‘teshuvah’ is a transformation from a secular to a religious person.
The explanatory notes that accompanied the bill say:
In view of the large number of cases in which various religious entities in Israel persuade minors to do teshuvah, among other things through activities and the distribution in schools of material that includes threats, it is proposed to prohibit in the Penal Code direct or indirect actions of those who act on behalf of such entities in order to persuade minors to do teshuvah.
In practice, solicitation for teshuvah is similar to solicitation for religious conversion, which is prohibited by section 368 (b) of the Penal Code. The bill refers to the solicitation of a minor, whose opinions and beliefs are usually less cohesive than those of an adult, to change his faith and turn from a secular person to a religious one, a decision he deserves to consider on his own without any external pressure or temptation.
Makor Rishon correspondent Ariel Schnabel had an interesting twist on the bill:
תמר זנדברג רוצה מאסר לכל חב״דניק שיניח תפילין לילדים מה שהיא לא יודעת זה שכל חב״דניק שמשתחרר ממאסר זה עוד יום חג בלוח השנה של החסידות עם וודקה אוכל וריקודים נראה לי האינטרסים פה זהים
— Ariel Schnabel אריאל שנבל (@ArielSchnabel) May 31, 2021
Which translates as, “Tamar Zandberg wants imprisonment for every Chabadnik who puts tefillin on children What she does not know is that every Chabadnik who is released from prison is another holiday in the Chassidut calendar with vodka, food and dance. I think the interests here are the same”
According to leftwing activist Uri Zaki, and Zandberg’s partner, the bill was not intentionally resubmitted 2 weeks ago, but was done automatically from bills that were submitted in the previous Knesset.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case.