Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MK Bezalel Smotrich in court

The number 2 in the Rightwing Union party MK Bezalel Smotrich on Monday told Reshet Bet that if he were appointed justice minister he would want to introduce elements of Jewish law into Israeli law.

A day earlier, on Sunday, at a Jerusalem Day celebration at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Smotrich said: “We want the justice portfolio because we want to restore Torah law to its status,” and cited the line from the Amida prayer which is recited three times every weekday by faithful Jews: “Restore our judges as in former times.”

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Naturally, secular Israeli Twitter users stormed the battlefield in search of booty, with witty and less so responses:

“Bezalel, we’ve been suspecting for a long time that something is wrong with you. But never mind that, the problem is that even in your own camp people are beginning to suspect that everything is not properly connected there.”

“What about a Hebrew slave, yes or no? What about stoning? The laws of the Temple in the meantime are irrelevant. But it seems to me that if the laws of kings from the Book of Deuteronomy are applied to the heads of state, the prime minister would have a minor problem.”

“Just cut babies in half, according to the opinion of the genius King Solomon.”

There were many more, equally divided between serious thinkers and users who barely remember their compulsory Bible classes in public school.

Smotrich stressed that “nothing happens at the moment and nothing is done by coercion, and when we talk about Torah Law there are many things that can be done. For example, the civil laws, which we call Dinei Nezikin (torts – DI). They are much more correct and just.”

At which point he added the magic words: “I think it is possible and necessary to strengthen the rabbinical courts.”

Does Avigdor Liberman need a spokesman to spread his hysterical warnings that the Netanyahu government would usher in a halachic state?

Of course, when Smotrich talks about a stronger rabbinical court, the last thing he has in mind are Haredi rabbis who know close to nothing about their secular constituents and are despised by them. What a failure in communication that one was.

“Torah laws are far superior to the halachic state created here by Aharon Barak,” Smotrich said on Reshet Bet radio, referring to the legal revolution of the former Supreme Court president which seriously skewed the balance between the judicial branch and the legislative and executive branches in Israel.

Later, on Twitter, Smotrich offered a very different explanation: “Aharon Barak’s legal methodology is clearly Torah-oriented,” he argued. “For example, the perception that everything is open to judicial deliberation; constitutional law which sets boundaries around the majority’s ability to impose its will; the existence of fundamental values ​​that the entire system is obliged to adhere to. All of these are clear principles of Torah Law.”

“Somehow, when [Barak] says it, it sounds great to you,” a frustrated Smotrich told his secular Twitter followers.

“Of course, my long-term desires is that Israel be guided by the Torah. This is a Jewish state, that’s the way it should be,” he continued, stressing that “It will only happen when the people of Israel want it, not when I want it.”

Slipping down the slope like a Jamaican athlete in a bobsleigh with a mind of its own, Smotrich continued to scare secular Israeli listeners on Reshet Bet radio that the worst they had feared was true: “The State of Israel will be conducted, with God’s help, as it was conducted during the days of King David and King Solomon, in compliance with Torah law, of course, in keeping with today’s needs, these challenges and this economy, and the way society lives in the year 2019.”

He later explained on Twitter: “As in the days of King David with accommodations to fit our time. Reality has changed, and so has the law, which upholds the principles of justice and integrity and adapts itself to reality (just like any other legal system). The time has come for us to stop being afraid of the Torah. We keep turning to the German, French, and English laws, and only our own laws are left abandoned.”

Had yours truly been MK Smotrich’s campaign adviser, I would have told him to stay home and not talk to reporters if what he needed to tell them was that he is bringing back the David and Solomon state. For one thing, that State of Israel barely lasted 80 years before it fell apart, and at least 70% of its Israelis got into pagan worship.

Indeed, much of what MK Smotrich depicts as the Torah laws we used to obey and should now apply as state law have never been tested as a unified system. Even Jewish civil law, which, according to Smotrich, could be applied with relative alacrity, is not so much law as a huge body of rulings—fascinating, even stunning with their depth, logic, sensitivity, wisdom and occasionally even poetry—but they have rarely been applied on the scale of a country.

When it was, the results were somewhere between anemic and altogether disappointing. Take for instance the Heter Iska halchic fiction, which for the entire history of 71 years of the State of Israel has never rescued a failed debtor from the Israeli bank that lent him money under the pretense of a “partnership.” In the end, the poor debtor always paid up everything, most notably the Torah-forbidden interest.

Indeed, in Israel the banks authority slaps fines on community organizations (known as gmachim) that give out loans to the needy without charging interest. Smotrich would have to do much more than convince Israelis they should embrace God’s law – he’ll have to explain that to bankers…

And that’s just torts and other civil lawsuits. When it comes to criminal law, especially capital crime, integrating Torah Law into Israeli secular law would be harder than landing on the moon (which we’ve done, but it involved crashing).

The Talmudic tractate of Sanhedrin describes our capital crime as nothing less than a religious ritual. That’s why we don’t admit women’s testimonies – unlike in financial litigation. The court is made up of 23 judges, based on the sages’ delineation of several Torah verses regarding the rules of testimonies. The defendant is not allowed to confess his or her crime. If all 23 judges convict, the defendant goes free. If there’s not sufficient proof to convict but the judges feel the accused did kill the victim, we place him in an isolated chamber where he eventually dies.

The above notes are but a few out of more than 100 pages packed with mind boggling notions of justice as, essentially, a process of the discovery of God. If the State of Israel couldn’t manage justice in Heter Iska, imagine it trying to explain to a woman that the fact that she saw the defendant murder his victim doesn’t mean squat – the judges won’t hear her testimony. They can’t.

Or, to take the opposite approach – I’d like to see Smotrich convince a rabbinical court comprised of only Tzohar rabbis that they should update the Torah criminal laws to accept the testimony of a female. Much success there, brother Bezalel.

In short, despite his considerable skill as a politician and as a political thinker – I am very familiar with both – MK Smotrich dropped a brick in the puddle with this one, and the resulting shpritz will prove tough to clean up.

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