Rabbi Prosecuted by Court for Preaching Torah hailed as ‘Modern-day Jeremiah’

On Monday, the Israeli High Court ordered Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general, and the State Attorney’s Office to take disciplinary action against Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Safed and a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council. The order came after a unanimous ruling in favor of the Reform Center for Religion and State, the “Tag Meir” forum, the Coalition against Racism in Israel, and the Association for Civil Rights in a case brought in 2016 over remarks the rabbi had made in the public forum.

‘Hate speech’

Justice Alex Stein, who wrote the ruling, described Rabbi Eliyahu’s comments as “threats, incitement, hateful… that are not in line with the Torah or Jewish law.”

Crossing a line

“It seems, on the face of it, that some of his public statements, though not all of them, crossed the red line that separates what a city rabbi is allowed to say and publish in public and what he is not allowed to say and publish in public, being a city rabbi. These prohibited statements, their number, and the length of the timeline in which they were made, which leads us to 2020 – indicates that the alternative disciplinary measure, which the respondents were satisfied with by a vote of 2-1, which included, as stated, clarification and warning talks, did not help or provide a proper response to the rabbi’s conduct,” Justice Alex Stein wrote in his ruling.

Rabbi Eliyahu responded to the decision in a statement:

“This is a political court. If we were talking about freedom of speech for their people, there would be no problem showing a guillotine or the prime minister being hanged. If we’re talking about rabbis or religious people, they bend the law to eradicate this basic right. We won’t stop talking. We won’t stop telling the truth.”

“This court will always protect infiltrators, terrorists, prevent the destruction of murderers’ houses, protect Bedouins who build on Jewish lands. You will never find it protecting [Sephardi Jews] or those living in the periphery. We have no confidence in this court. It is a political court.”

What he said

One of the rabbi’s comments highlighted by the judges in their ruling involved the rabbi’s call on citizens, police, and IDF personnel to kill anyone who tries to kill a Jew, and not to try and restrain or capture them.

“Anyone who raises a hand to a Jew needs to be killed, Rabbi Eliyahu said. “We need to have a law so that it is clear to everyone including murderers, that a terrorist who comes to kill Jews – that is their end. It is an obligation and religious commandment for soldiers, police officers, and citizens to finish them. Not to disable them, not to restrain them, but to remove them from the world.”

Following an anti-semitic attack in Germany by a group of Arabs, Rabbi Eliyahu said, “ The Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea. They have the same hatred for Jews wherever they see Jews they harm them.”

The rabbi also criticized the criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an effort to remove him from power “by those who have failed at the ballot box.”

Rabbi Eliyahu has also claimed the justice system in Israel is corrupt. 

Betzalel Smotrich,  a member of the Knesset for the Yamina alliance, decried the ruling against Rabbi Eliyahu. 

“In a more perfect world, Chief Justice Hayut and Supreme Court judges would have been summoned dozens of times for disciplinary action for political distortion of Israeli law,” Smotrich wrote. “Again, in a ruling that is all about silencing dissent, a rabbi, a scholar, and a public leader is being prosecuted for his opinions. They’re silencing and terrorizing the rabbis, they’re silencing the Right, they silence anyone who threatens their hegemony. It won’t be long before they silence elected officials who aren’t on the correct political side.” 

Another rabbi weighs in

Rabbi Hillel Weiss, the former spokesman for the Sanhedrin and current head of the Organization of 70 Nations, 

“There is really only one way to see this court decision,” Rabbi Weiss said. “I decry the actions of the so-called court of justice. They claim to be the court of justice of Israel but this is not the justice that Israel was commanded to perform. They are, in fact, operating against what we are commanded. The rabbis teach that if a court does not follow the Laws of Moses, it becomes a great and horrible enemy of the people and is, in fact, working to destroy the nation of Israel.”

Recalling Jeremiah

Rabbi Weiss compared the case brought by the secular court to the tribulations faced by the Prophet Jeremiah at the hands of the leaders of the Jewish people in his day. In one such case, Pashur the son of ben Immer, a temple official, had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin for a day. In another,King Zedekiah allowed palace officials to cast Jermiah into a cistern, where he sank down into the mud. The intent seemed to be to kill Jeremiah by starvation, while allowing the officials to claim to be innocent of his blood. 

“The mixture of politics and justice is anti-democratic and anti-justice,” Rabbi Weiss said. “Here we have a justice system that engages in politics, moving against Prime Minister Netanyahu, while Netanyahu serves it nonetheless. It is not logic, not justice, and not an effective way to serve God or the people.” 

The only solution

Rabbi Weiss noted that the only solution to restore justice would be to reestablish the Sanhedrin of 71 elders of Israel.

“It is clear from what happened to Rabbi Eliyahu that the current court in Israel is nothing more than a primitive political tool with only the faintest pretense to actually serving the cause of justice. They serve a state that represents the Jewish people but does not serve the most important aspect of the Jewish people; the Torah.”

“A Sanhedrin would be the most democratic solution, truly representing the Jewish people in justice.” 

Rabbi Eliyahu’s father was  Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1983 to 1993. He also served in an Israel Defense Forces combat unit.


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