Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday instructed police to halt the questioning of a Conservative rabbi brought in earlier in the day over wedding ceremonies he conducted outside the auspices of state-run Chief Rabbinate.
In a radical departure from the state’s longstanding non-enforcement of the issue, police knocked on Rabbi Dov Haiyun’s door in the northern city of Haifa around 5 a.m. to bring him in for interrogation, following a complaint by a local rabbinical court.
Haiyun, who has been officiating at non-Orthodox weddings in Israel for decades, was released several hours later, after committing to appear for another round of questioning on Monday.
However, Mandelblit instructed police to desist until more was known about the circumstances of Haiyun’s alleged offenses.
“After an initial clarification of the matter, the attorney general instructed police not to summon Rabbi Haiyun for a criminal investigation until the completion of a clarification into whether his actions raise suspicions of a criminal offense,” the Justice ministry said in a statement.
Haiyun said he was shocked by his arrest and said Israel was becoming an Orthodox theocracy.
“Iran is here already. I am not an offender, not a murderer, not a criminal,” Haiyun said in interviews with Hebrew media. “I was amazed.”
“It is hard for me to think of a less Jewish thing on the eve of the 9th of Av,” Haiyun added referring to the Hebrew date on which the Second Temple was destroyed. According to tradition, it was hatred among Jew that led to its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE. A fast day to commemorate this event falls on Sunday.
“The police has been drawn into becoming a tool in the hands of the Orthodox rabbinate. It is a sad day for Israeli democracy,” he said.
Politicians, mostly from opposition parties, lamented Haiyun’s being hauled in by police and criticized the Orthodox control of the rabbinate.
Avi Gabbay, leader of the main opposition faction the Zionist Union, accused the rabbinate of acting to quash competitors.
“This is not Iran here!” he said in a statement. “The police cannot be a religious force operated by the rabbis who are afraid of competition. Be welcoming, respect women who want a get [divorce document], give service to people instead of sending the police! I call on the chief of police to make sure that this first incident is also the last.”
Head of the left-wing Meretz party opposition MK Tamar Zandberg said she intends to ask Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan for “accountability.”
“It is not clear when the Israel Police became a religious police which arrests people for their faith and holding a wedding according to their ways,” she said. “What is clear is that this show of force won’t stop the tens of thousands of couples who marry each year outside of the rabbinate and no one will manage to stop that.”
Opposition MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, warned of how Haiyun’s detention would be perceived among US Jews, most of whom are not Orthodox.
“This is mad ultra-Orthodox coercion,” he said “Have we gone crazy? Think about world Jewry. What will the millions of Jews in the US think when they wake up this morning and hear that in Israeli affairs their beliefs and faith are a criminal offense? What does it say about us that Israel has become the only democracy in the world in which Jews don’t have freedom of religion? The religious establishment is convinced that if it controls Netanyahu, it controls the country.”
MK Yehudah Glick, a religious member of the ruling Likud party, tweeted: “There are some things which are not supposed to happen in a democratic state and this is one of them. Unnecessary, damaging, stupid.”
In contrast, MK Bezalel Smotrich, from the hawkish national-religious Jewish Home party, said the law must be upheld.
“Pulling in someone in the early hours of the morning is indeed an unnecessary and damaging police practice. But — and it is a big but — the law is the law and if someone breaks it then they have to stand trial. I support the rabbinate and the police.
“Leaving marriages and divorce in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate according to the Torah is important and critical in order for us to remain a unified people and in order that in another few generations we can marry one another without worry” relating to marriages forbidden by religious law. “The shortsighted demand to change it is irresponsible and we will do everything to prevent it,” he declared.
Rabbis for Human Rights said in a statement: “As a nondenominational organization of rabbis who believe that Judaism has a many faces we hope that Israel will come to its senses, and that the day will come in which all different paths to be a Jew will be recognized in our country.”