Thursday, November 10, 2005

Report: Warnings over Jewish theocracy in Israel

This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.

The World Today - Thursday, 10 November , 2005 12:47:04
Reporter: Matt Brown

ELEANOR HALL: Staying in the Middle East, there are warnings today about the push to establish a theocracy, not one based on Sharia law in a country like Iraq, but a Jewish theocracy in Israel.

There a group of radical rabbis is seeking to challenge the secular state of Israel by reviving an ancient religious court.

The ultimate court in Biblical times, the Sanhedrin, hasn't existed for more than 1,500 years.

But during the last year extremist rabbis have been re-establishing this ancient authority, in the hope it will change the course of their nation.

From Jerusalem, Middle East Correspondent Matt Brown reports.

(sound of prayer)

MATT BROWN: Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem gather at the Western Wall where their holy temple stood 2,000 years ago. At the time, the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin, met here too.

The Sanhedrin was the ultimate source of law in the Holy Land. And now an attempt to revive that ancient court has opened up a new front in the struggle over Israel's future.

HAIM RICHMAN: The revolution in Israel is not a physical revolution. It's a revolution in thought, in education, in family values.

MATT BROWN: Rabbi Haim Richman is one of a small group of rabbis that's come together to revive the Sanhedrin, a court of 71 Torah sages, which represents a fundamental challenge to the secular state and the secular supreme court at its core.

HAIM RICHMAN: The Sanhedrin is proscribed by the Torah, by the Bible of Israel, to be the source of legislature for the Jewish people.

MATT BROWN: Emeritus Law Professor Shmuel Shilo, an expert on religious as well as secular law in Israel, says the rabbis want to take Israel back to a system out of step with modern democracy.

SHMUEL SHILO: There is a group which is not satisfied with having a secular government and would like the government to be more, maybe that wouldn't like the term, but in a sense, a theocracy.

MATT BROWN: But that's a label warmly embraced by Rabbi Richman.

HAIM RICHMAN: I'm not afraid by that word, I don't believe it's a dirty word. I believe the Jewish people are theo-anthropoids, or however you like to call them. And yes, a theocracy meaning that the Torah teaches us that the basis of human existence is to know that there is a God in the world and to serve him. And like Bob Dylan said, a good Jewish boy, you got to serve somebody.

MATT BROWN: This challenge to the secular state isn't just a project of a hand full of rabbis. When Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, withdrew from the Gaza strip in August and handed it back to the Palestinians he was accused of betraying a Jewish biblical birthright to the land.

Scores of teenagers were arrested in the protests against the evacuation. When one of them recently turned to the rabbis of the Sanhedrin for guidance they ruled that she was right to refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of the court in which she was being tried, and she's not alone.

HAIM RICHMAN: She is actually under house arrest. And just now, in these very days, we have a similar situation with another group of girls who are ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation simply because of the fact that they had the audacity to state that they don't recognise the authority of the court to try them. And what they mean by that they don't recognise it is that they are requesting to be tried by a court based on what we call Torah values, the values of the Bible of Israel.

MATT BROWN: The rabbis are hoping that growing disenchantment with democracy Israeli-style will help them make the Sanhedrin the ultimate source of authority in Israel once more.

ELEANOR HALL: Matt Brown reporting from Jerusalem.


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