The Making of Religious Zionist Extremists

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In this op-ed, which was originally published in Haaretz on July 8, 2011, IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg reflects on the recent public debate over the Rabbi Dov Lior affair, and wonders why the religious Zionist camp was not as concerned about the contents of the book that Rabbi Lior endorsed as it was about his arrest. Sheleg argues that there should be a central moral criterion for judging "words of Torah" that would preclude endorsement of racist positions or halakhic rulings that would permit bloodshed. He also describes the history that led to the development of the fragile relationship between the religious Zionist movement and Israel's secular elite, criticizing the latter for creating a "tragedy of a self-fulfilling prophecy."

 "Two central points were missed during the public debate about the Rabbi Dov Lior affair, which focused on the secondary question of whether it is appropriate to investigate a rabbi for remarks he made condoning "words of Torah." My response is no, it is not. If there is room for a criminal proceeding it must concentrate on the writers of the book Torat Hamelech. Nevertheless it is annoying that all those who are railing against the "crossing of lines" in the arrest of the rabbi, did not bother to protest at all, at least with the same fervor, the contents of those above mentioned "words of Torah." Ultimately we are referring to enthusiastic agreement with a book that draws a fine line between the value of the life of a Jew and the value of the life of a "gentile"—a book which expresses points of view according to which, during a war, it is possible to kill even babies in situations in which it is "clear that they will grow up to harm us." 

The time has come when, in the religious community itself, there should be a central moral criterion for judging words of Torah. A person can be familiar with the casuistry of halakha (Jewish law ) more than anyone else, but if his conclusion leads to a racist position, and how much more so to halakhic instructions that permit the shedding of the blood of gentiles, his theory must be rejected out of hand...." 

Read the full article on the Haaretz website 

Yair Sheleg is a Research Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute who is conducting research as part of IDI's Religion and State project.