A blazing political row over the sexual mores of King David petered out quietly in the Knesset this week when a no-confidence motion introduced by opposition Orthodox parties was comfortably defeated by a margin of 56-41.
The government’s fears of a close call were eased when, shortly before the debate and vote on Monday, the fervently Orthodox Shas Party said its members would absent themselves from the vote on the orders of the party’s religious mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
A Likud Knesset member, Meir Sheetrit, also abstained from the vote, saying he refused to be a “tool” in the hands of Orthodox rabbis bent on attacking the government.
The furor erupted on Dec. 14, when Peres addressed the Knesset during a passionate debate about the peace process.
Condemning Israeli occupation as contrary to the heritage of Judaism, the foreign minister was challenged by a rights Knesset member with the Biblical fact that King David had conducted wars of occupation.
“Not everything that King David did on the ground or on the rooftops is Jewish in my eyes,” Peres shot back.
His reference was to a passage in II Samuel 11, in which King David watched from a rooftop as Bathsheba was bathing. Smitten with her beauty, David sent her husband, Uriah, off to his death in battle and subsequently married her.
Peres’ remark triggered a vociferous and sustained chorus of protest from Orthodox members.
One parliamentarian. Avraham of the United Torah Judaism bloc, became so overwrought that he passed out and required medical attention at the Knesset infirmary.
The Orthodox Knesset members later cited Talmudic passages that put David’s actions in a much better light than the, literal scriptural account would indicate.
They, along with incensed writers in the Orthodox press, accused Peres of gross disrespect for King David.
For his part, Peres sent a letter last Friday to Israel’s chief rabbis and other religious leaders in which he disclaimed “any intention of insulting the `Sweet Psalmist of Israel'” – the traditional title of King David.
But in a declaration published ion Sunday, the Chasidic Rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem After, rejected Peres’ letter as falling far short of a genuine apology.
After referred to the foreign minister as “one of those far removed from Torah and mitzvot” and declared that it was his duty to protest loudly against Peres’ conduct.
In the debate prior to Monday’s vote, Rabbi Avraham Ravitz of United Torah Judaism weighed in with a passionate harangue against the foreign minister’s behavior.
Peres chose to stay out of the debate.
Instead, the minister of justice, David Libai, replied on behalf of the government.
He said only: “David melech Yisrael, chai vekayam,” (loosely translated as “David, King of Israel, lives forever”) I propose that this motion be voted off the Knesset agenda.”