Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected calls from a senior lawmaker that Israel should be ruled by Jewish law, just like in biblical times.
“The state of Israel will not be a halakha state,” Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew on Twitter, referring to Jewish religious law.
His comments came after Bezalel Smotrich, who is campaigning to be Israel’s next justice minister, said in an interview that Israel should be “run according to the Torah”.
“That’s the way it should be — it’s a Jewish state,” said Smotrich, a co-leader of the far-right Union of Right Wing Parties.
Speaking with public broadcaster KAN, Smotrich, himself an Orthodox Jew, said however that such a change could “only happen when the Jewish people want it, not when I want it”, but was confident of the appeal of religious law.
“The Jewish people will want (it). They’ll see how the law of the Torah is correct and just and moral and humane,” he said.
The Union of Right Wing Parties won five seats in April 9 elections, and Smotrich had declared they would join Netanyahu’s coalition on condition that he receive the justice portfolio.
Netanyahu, however, failed to form a coalition government and moved to dissolve parliament, with new elections now set for September 17.
On Sunday, he dismissed education minister Naftali Bennett and justice minister Ayelet Shaked from their posts.
Speaking with KAN, Smotrich, referring to biblical kings of Israel, expressed hope that Israel “will return to be run as it had been during the days of King David and King Solomon -– according to the law of the Torah”.
He noted, however, that the religious rule he envisioned would be “in accordance with these times and challenges and economy and the way society conducts itself in 2019”.
Expounding on his remarks on Twitter, Smotrich compared the Torah’s potential role in Israeli law to the influences of German, French or English law.
“You need to understand what the Torah has to offer our times, how it blends with democracy and civilian life that society determines for itself,” he said.
“It’s not scary like people are trying to make it appear.”
Following the interview, the head of left-wing party Meretz appealed to the attorney general against Smotrich’s possible appointment to justice minister.
“There’s a real risk that the justice ministry will be used to undermine Israeli democracy,” Tamar Zandberg wrote.
Former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, said his party “would prevent the state from becoming a state run by religious laws”.