Tzvi Tal, former Supreme Court justice who headed IDF Haredi editorial board, dies at 94

Former Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal, who oversaw the trial of Nazi guard John Demjanjuk and headed a committee to regulate the delay of military service for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, died on Tuesday at the age of 94 years old.

Justice said in a statement that Tal’s funeral would begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mourned Tal, saying in a statement that he had been “a man of truth, wise and humble, and that he had done a lot for the people of Israel since the day he immigrated to Israel. from Poland… The late judge Tal was never afraid to express his conservative views, even when he was in the minority.

President Reuven Rivlin said Tal “was one of Israel’s most special judges”.

“His vast knowledge of Torah and justice made him feel at home both in the Israeli and Jewish legal world and thus to build a stable and balanced bond between the Jewish and democratic characters of Israel,” he said. added Rivlin. “Her calm, straightforward and warm nature will be greatly missed. “

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Born to a Hasidic family in Poland in 1927, Tal’s family moved to Israel when he was eight years old. He studied at the Bnei Akiva yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh before joining the Haganah paramilitary group and then the Israel Defense Forces.

After completing his law studies at Hebrew University in 1953, Tal worked as a lawyer until 1978, when he was appointed a judge of the Jerusalem District Court.

There he was part of the panel of judges who in 1988 found Demjanjuk guilty of committing war crimes as a guard in Treblinka death camp during the Holocaust, and sentenced him to death. . The conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court five years later, after new evidence cast doubt on Demjanjuk’s identification as “Ivan the Terrible” from Treblinka.

Tal later said he was “100% sure” the identification was correct, but added that even Nazi criminals deserve a high quality legal defense.

“Even if the devil is tried, the devil needs the best defense attorney, and if they don’t have a proper defense, there won’t be a trial,” he said.

Tal has also presided over cases relating to the Reform conversion and the opening of a main street in Jerusalem through Haredim neighborhoods on Shabbat.

Former Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 20, 2010. (Abir Sultan / Flash 90)

He convicted nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu of espionage and treason in 1988, but later wrote in his memoir that the state had gone too far in preventing the release of trial details and keeping Vanunu in solitary confinement for a long time. period.

He became a Supreme Court justice in 1994 and served there for three years until his retirement at the age of 70.

As the only religious and conservative judge during those years, Tal often found himself in the minority. He was the only judge to oppose Alice Miller’s right as a woman to participate in the Israel Air Force flight course (he later said he might have ruled differently in today’s atmosphere), and the only judge to oppose the incitement to racism conviction of a man who wrote an article supporting Baruch Goldstein, who slaughtered 29 Palestinians in Hebron.

He then criticized the Supreme Court for not being sufficiently diverse, for having only one religious justice, one of Mizrahi origin and one Arab for decades: “As long as it is only a chair, you can say it’s a fig leaf. I’m looking for more diversity so that there are lots of fig leaves.

In 1999, Tal was appointed to head an eponymous committee that made recommendations to the Knesset, which resulted in the so-called Tal law regulating delay in military service for haredi yeshiva students – a question very controversial in the ultra-Orthodox community, where many oppose serving in the IDF.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters block a road as they protest the arrest of an army rebel in Jerusalem on November 28, 2018 (Aharon Krohn / Flash90)

For the first time, the law required that yeshiva students who wished to work must first complete a short period of time in the military or in national service. However, the High Court of Justice overturned the law in 2012, arguing that it did not respect the principle of equality.

“What people don’t understand is that you can’t achieve full equality in any community at once,” Tal told the Haaretz daily in 2006. “There are inequalities between different people. communities – minorities, people with disabilities, women. Equality is a very important value, but sometimes the road to it is strewn with pitfalls that take time. [to overcome]. It is best to achieve limited equality, aimed at reducing inequality over time. “

In 2005, Tal sharply criticized the plan to evacuate all settlements from the Gaza Strip and criticized the High Court for dismissing the claims against her.

“It is simply an injustice to uproot people from their homes,” he said at the time, adding that if he had been a soldier, he would have refused the evacuation order. “The Supreme Court did not act reasonably. It definitely disappointed me. I do not know how the judges explain this.

Tal was married to Chana and they had six children, one of whom died during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

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