By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Thousands of Jewish settlers protested on Monday against the brief detention of two leading rabbis, in what some commentators have called a clash between religion and the rule of law.
Police interrogated Rabbi Yaacov Yosef on Sunday and Rabbi Dov Lior last week over their endorsements of a treatise suspected of inciting the murder of Arabs.
Their followers said they were targeted as part of a witch-hunt against far-right West Bank settlers and that religious edicts should not be the subject of a police investigation that they said suppressed freedom of expression.
"The laws of the Torah take precedence over the laws of the state, arrest me," read a sticker taped to one protester's mouth.
"One must teach the Torah even if it involves a certain risk," Lior told some 2,000 demonstrators.
Hundreds of police officers kept order at the protest outside Israel's supreme court, which was stormed last week by dozens of angry settler youths after police detained Lior, chief rabbi for the hardcore settlement of Kiryat Arba.
Both clerics had endorsed "The King's Doctrine," a book written by a more obscure settler rabbi offering justifications from scripture for the killing of innocent non-Jews during religious war.
NONE ABOVE THE LAW
Israeli security officials fear such edicts could fuel Jewish attacks designed to prevent the eviction of settlers from occupied land they regard as theirs by biblical birthright but which Palestinians, with international support, want as part of a future Palestinian state.
Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben Ari of the right-wing Ichud Leumi party told Reuters the rabbis' detention was meant to "sow fear, not to investigate."
"Rabbis are not above the law. A rabbi who has broken the law must be brought to justice and investigated. If he has stolen, taken a bribe, harmed someone, he has no immunity. But the Torah has immunity. The Torah cannot stand trial," Ben Ari said.
Both rabbis had ignored a police summons for questioning, and street protests which broke out after their brief detention prompted some commentators to warn of a dangerous rift between state and synagogue.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the law applied to everyone. "Nobody is above the law and I demand that every Israeli citizen respect the law," Netanyahu said in broadcast comments.
(Editing by Tim Pearce)