Chevron Yeshiva Plots Takeover of Israel Supreme Court; Bagatz Strikes Back


You’ve got to watch out for those haredim. They are going to take over the Jewish world, if you don’t stop them. We’ve just learned of another stealth target of theirs – Israel’s Supreme Court. People have been vigilant enough to prevent them from turning some justice into a baal teshuvah, G-d forbid. (Actually, three of them are already frum). That did not prevent the haredim from doing an end run around the defenders of secularism, by making a bee-line for someone the Tel Avivians would not have suspected. Here is the story:


Salim Joubran delighted the group invited to a reception earlier today at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. The group was composed of roughly equal parts of community leaders, law profs, and rabbis of various stripes. The common denominator is that they all knew about the penchant for Jews to speak too long. Justice Joubran, however, being an Arab Christian, quickly sought to distance himself from that particular Jewish malady. “As Henry VIII once told one of his wives,” he began, “Don’t worry. I won’t keep you too long.”


As a permanent member of Israel’s Supreme Court, Justice Joubran did a quick-and-dirty tour of the Court, and how it differs from the USSC. He quickly gained the sympathy of the crowd by comparing the case load of the US court (about 90 cases a year) with the 9000 a year in Israel. He touched on many important points: access of the Court to any citizen whatsoever, even (in certain cases) as the court of first – not last – recourse; judicial activism; appointment of justices by committee, rather than by political nomination; the Basic Laws serving as a kind of constitution. The presentation was lean, mean, and professional.


He then moved to the personal side. His family fled the fighting in ’48. Remarkably, they were able to return from Beirut in ’55, through the intervention of Jewish coworkers of his father, who pulled strings for the family, despite their residing in a country still technically at war with Israel (as it remains today.)


Fast forward to Hebrew U law school, which is when the haredi plot was hatched. He shared a room with another student in a frum neighborhood – Sanhedria. In the same building were three talmidim of Chevron. They had never gotten that close to an Arab before, and were intrigued by him. They asked him to teach them Arabic. He agreed, if they would introduce him to Jewish law. In his own words, “They taught me Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra.” This would prove to be important to his position (and his expertise in criminal law in particular), because in 1980, Knesset passed a law changing the procedure of the Court when it found legal principle to be less than compelling on a given issue. Before the legislation, British common law would take over in such a case. The new law specified that Jewish Law should then be searched for its contribution. (Today, he uses the Bar-Ilan database to access that contribution.)


He did well at Hebrew U, and became a favorite of Menachem Elon, himself a former talmid of Chevron, who in time got to the Supreme Court himself. But his relationship with the three talmidim was close enough, that he responded affirmatively when they asked him for a favor. As a Maronite Christian, he secured Jordanian permission to cross over through the Mandelbaum House to the Jordanian-controlled sector (this was before the Six Day War in ’67) in order to visit the Christian shrines. They asked him to stop at the Kotel and insert a kvitel in the Wall. He did – and was immediately seized by four Jordanian policemen, who accused him of being a spy. They viewed placing a piece of paper in the Jewish Wall as an obvious attempt at espionage. He tried explaining that he knew there was an old Jewish practice of inserting a prayer in the Wall, which would then be answered. Fortunately for him, one of the police was an Armenian Christian who confirmed that he had also heard of such a practice, and they decided that he was not a spy.


He lives in Haifa in a building shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims. All live together, he says, in mutual respect and tolerance. (It is so different from other places, that cars on Friday evening routinely detour around the street that houses Haifa’s central synagogue, out of deference to the observant. Since none of his Jewish neighbors drive on Yom Kippur, neither does he!) He sent his children to Jewish preschools before they began Christian schools. He himself grew up with complete familiarity with Jewish holidays and practices. So much so, that he was asked for five years running to sit on the panel to award honor to the best Sukkah of the season.


The three Chevroner bochrim apparently left a lasting impression upon him. But there is always a darker side to upbeat stories like this. He did blurt out that he remembered the yearly Pesach sedarim that he attended, and the holiday season of Pesach – especially the chocolate covered matzah! Now, the last time I checked, all chocolate covered matzah was made with egg matzah, which we of course do not eat. We only permit it to those who are aged or ill.  Could it be that Justice Joubran will lead the Court in the same direction as the Conservative movement which this week moved to discard yet another part of Shulchan Aruch, and officially allow kitniyos to everyone?  Will Israel’s Supreme Court issue a decision contravening halachah, and allowing everyone to eat matzah ashirah?


Forget issues like the core curriculum and the Kotel compromise. This may be the next issue to call for our hand-wringing.





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8 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    When you say “we do not eat” matzah ashira, you are of course referring to Ashkenazim. Most people in Israel aren’t Ashkenazi, and so have no problem eating it.

  2. Maybe Salim Joubran could be a maggid shiur at next year’s Tikvah program for Yeshivaleit…

  3. Reb Yid says:

    Thank you for the interesting article.

    I was wondering about the halachic issues involved in the bochurim having taught Mr. Joubran gemara.

    I would also like to over-analyze the chocolate covered matza issue: 1. chocolate covered regular matza has been commercially available for a number of years now (Barton’s crackers, Yehuda, etc.), although perhaps not at the time that Mr. Joubran was attending sedorim. 2. He may have attended Sephardic sedorim, and Sephardim do eat egg matzo. 3. The choco-matzo may have been homemade. 4. It may have been for young children at the seder, who are allowed to eat egg matzo. 5. It may have been for Mr. Joubran, who is allowed to eat egg matzo.

  4. Charlie Hall says:

    The Shulchan Aruch permits kitniyot on Pesach. It is the Rema that brings down the Askenazic minhag not to eat kitniyot on Pesach. Chodesh tov! 😉

    [YA – One of the habits of us strange Ashkenazim is that we colloquially refer to both parts – the Shulchan and the Mapah – as Shulchan Aruch, having in mind that the bottom line is the conclusion of the Ramo. So in the lingua franca of the Ashkenazi street, yes, Shulchan Aruch does prohibit kitniyos. This habit of ours may seem irksome to some, on the same plane as the habit of some others to refer to the author of the other part of Shulchan Aruch as THE Mechaber. Happy Geulah!]

    • mb says:

      Actually, Charlie, the SA does discuss communities that do not eat kitnyot (I assume the Moroccans that don’t eat rice, but maybe others, and maybe he was aware of the Ashnenazi customs?) and concludes that kitnyot are batel b’rov.

      R.Adlerstein, did you get the answer to my question re batal b’rov?

      [YA – I did, and you won’t like the answer. For starters, look at Shulchan Aruch Harav in תפד regarding mustard seed]

  5. R.B. says:

    Here is the “teshuvah” by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly permitting kitniyot to Ashkenazim:

    I wonder how many Conservatives Jews who are Ashkenazim would not eat kitniyos before this came out, and also how many Conservative laity will actually read this.

  6. Mark says:

    It’s hard to gainsay politics, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that, from the perspective of the laws and values a Jewish State’s high court ought to espouse and enforce, the Hon. Salim Joubran is the pickle swimming around in the curdled milk. Israel’s Supreme Court proudly stands as the bleak, rough-hewn breaker against which all national waves of Aleinu and Al Kein Nekaveh must crash, and its progressively more aggressive adjudication of blatantly religious affairs is an outrage.

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