Major US Jewish groups spoke out Thursday against the interrogation of a Conservative rabbi, calling his 5 a.m. detention for questioning about weddings he performed disturbing and outrageous.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit later Thursday instructed police to halt the questioning of Rabbi Dov Haiyun over wedding ceremonies he conducted outside the auspices of state-run Chief Rabbinate, but not before his detention sent a deep shiver down the spine of an already-frayed Israel-Diaspora relationship.
“Today’s actions against Rabbi Haiyun marks a new and dangerous step in the ongoing attack on religious freedom and civil liberties in Israel,” read a statement from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism released late Thursday, expressing “outrage” over the move.
USCJ head Rabbi Steven Wernick sent a sharp letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest the detention, Haaretz reported.
“Bet you didn’t know that performing a non Orthodox wedding in Israel is punishable by 2 years in prison? And now with new nation law, why wouldn’t we be worried about Israel’s direction as a democratic State? This is OUR @RabbiAssembly colleague,” Wernick wrote on Twitter.
Bet you didnt know that performing a non orthdox wedding in Israel is punishable by 2 years in prison? And now with new nation law, why wouldn't (contraction) we be worried about Israel's direction as a democratic State? Hhm? This is OUR @RabbiAssembly colleague. @USCJ https://t.co/9ejNyP1Po8
— Rabbi Steven Wernick (@rebsteve) July 19, 2018
Other American groups also protested the move.
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing reports” of Haiyun’s detention, said a statement from US Jewry’s umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York also said it was “disturbed” by the incident.
“Today’s action is dramatically inconsistent with Israel’s promise as the home of the entire Jewish people, and its commitment to equality and respect for all its citizens,” said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York.
In a separate statement, the Jewish Federations of North America said it was “deeply disturbed” by the detention.
“We have high expectations and hopes for Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. It is meant to be a home for all Jews and a reflection of Jewish values,” the statement read.
The US-based Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis worlwide, also said it was “outraged” by the detention of Haiyun, a former president of RA-Israel, describing the incident as “shocking.”
“Today’s detention of a respected former President of the Israel RA gravely undermines the integrity of government institutions and is contrary to the values of Israel and the Jewish people,” said RA CEO Rabbi Julie Schonfeld.
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, though the attorney general later instructed police to desist until more was known about the circumstances of Haiyun’s alleged offenses.
Haiyun was slated to teach at an event at the residence of President Reuven Rivlin later Thursday and the RA accused the Haifa Rabbinate and police of seeking to embarass Rivlin by detaining him.
Haiyun later attended the event.
The detention came amid withering criticism from Israelis and Diaspora Jews over the Knesset’s passage earlier Thursday morning of a law legislating the country’s Jewish character.
In a Times of Israel blog, current RA-Israel head Rabbi Mickie Goldstein claimed the detention was the direct result of the law’s passage.
The law “provided for the Rabbinate to instruct the police to detain a Masorti rabbi, because he does not follow their particular interpretation of Judaism — the first time, in fact, that the law regarding marriages has been acted upon,” he wrote.
However, police said they were forced to come to Haiyun’s house after the Conservative rabbi ignored a summons to appear for questioning earlier in the week. Officers were merely executing a rabbinical court order to question Haiyun, the force said, adding that the Israel Police was not independently taking action on the issue.
Haiyun said he was shocked by his detention 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.
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.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.