Regev Responds

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attacks Reform

Perpetual surrender to anti-Zionistic, anti-democratic religious ideology

It is clear that a key building block in the demands of both the Haredi parties and the Union of right-wing parties is the ensuring that the non-Orthodox movements be excluded and delegitimized

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak YosefChief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef

It is clear that a key building block in the demands of both the Haredi parties and the Union of right-wing parties is the ensuring that the non-Orthodox movements be excluded and delegitimized. This is exemplified in their demand that the Kotel agreement not only be suspended but be eliminated, and - that the control of the Chief Rabbinate of the site be increased; that a conversion law be passed to further limit state recognition of both non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox conversions; that gender segregation be legalized; and more.

To what extent the Likud will buckle under these demands remains to be seen, but clearly without showing willingness, let alone interest, in establishing a coalition with Blue-&-White, the Likud may once again surrender to the religious parties’ demands, which are not only opposed by the overwhelming majority of Israelis, but also by the Likud's own voters. The anomaly of the situation and its extreme ideological distaste can be demonstrated in many ways. Three that occurred in the last few days will illustrate this.

  • This year, on Israeli Memorial Day, and all mainstream Israeli media dedicate their front pages to the national agony and our indebtedness to the fallen soldiers. The official daily (Yated Ne'eman) of the Degel HaTorah party (Haredi, Ashkenazi party) led by MK Moshe Gafni, the long-time chair of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, reports on the Iranian nuclear challenge, Qatar's transfer of funds to Hamas, and a prominent column titled 'Disgrace: service cabs will expand their service to include Shabbat throughout the country, including Jerusalem'. It further emphasizes this title with a stamp-like graphic: 'The trampling of Shabbat'. Not a word is dedicated to the special significance of the day.
  • In order to understand that and the refusal of the United Torah Judaism party's Haredi Knesset members to respond to respond to a media questionnaire, asking "What character do they maintain should be given to Israeli Independence Day, and why are they not celebrating it?" one can quote, for instance, from Tuesday's Yated Ne'eman editorial, following on the cease fire in the south: "The responsibility for safeguarding the residents of the country is incumbent on the students of Torah because the iron and the steel cannot provide protection. The real IDF, the one that mans the real weapons of war: the mind and the heart, is the only one that can provide protection. The real soldiers are the ones who engage in depth in the study of Torah, which ‘protects and saves’"
  • Last week, a new volume of halakha by the Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (the son of the former Chief Rabbi and leader of Shas) in which he targets Reform Judaism, saying that Reform Jews should not be given the honor of coming up to the Torah, and that a Reform rabbi should not be allowed to perform a Jewish wedding ceremony. Additionally, Chief Rabbi Yosef refers to their gatherings at the Western Wall and claims that their goal there is not to pray, but rather "to claim the rights of a fictitious entity called Reform Judaism."

What should be noted is that this isn't an individual rabbi exercising free speech to delegitimize his theological rivals. Rather this is the state salaried Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, claiming to be the highest religious Jewish authority in the country and the final authority on all matters Jewish (such as who and how should be allowed to pray at the Kotel). Needless to say neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Religious Services (another Shas appointment), nor any key Israeli leader for that matter saw the need to protest and challenge not only Rabbi Yosef's substance; but the fact is that such statements are incompatible with Israel's outreach to world Jewry's non-Orthodox communities, as is often promoted by Israel's Prime Minister.

We must put Chief Rabbi Yosef’s anti-Reform comments in context. Rabbi Yosef does not think highly of Israel's civil laws and the limitations they set upon his office.

We must put Chief Rabbi Yosef’s anti-Reform comments in context. Rabbi Yosef does not think highly of Israel's civil laws and the limitations they set upon his office. This can be seen in Hiddush's recent complaint to the State Attorney following the Chief Rabbi's illegal electioneering for Shas. The Chief Rabbi himself, last year, in a public speech, declared secular Judges who don't observe Shabbat to be ineligible to give testimony and even more so to sit in judgment.

Israel's politicians did not protest when another of the Yosef rabbinic dynasty (his brother Avraham Yosef before he was Chief Rabbi of Holon) declared that Israel's civil judges, including the Modern Orthodox who serve on the Supreme Court, should not be included in a minyan or called up to the Torah. Our politicians and law enforcement agencies do not feel concerned when this Yosef (the later disgraced Rabbi Avraham Yosef of Holon who was forced to resign from office after being convicted for criminal offenses) was involved in abusing his powers as Chief Rabbi food businesses to avail themselves of meat certified by the Yosef family's certification business. As part of the plea agreement, he committed to resign from office and refrain from applying for a rabbinic position for seven years, but lo and behold: just last week his name was featured in the Holon municipality announcements as the "Mara d'Atra" (the Rabbi of the City), thinking apparently that using the Aramaic term justifies his continued use of this high office, even after resigning. The announcements listed the mayor of the city as joining him at the event, intended to commemorate the Holocaust.

The Deputy Attorney General responded to a request from a women's organization and instructed the municipality to refrain from gender segregation in this municipal program (gender segregation per the Attorney General's instructions is allowed only in specifically religious events where the religious ceremony constitutes the main content of the event). Afterwards, Rabbi Avraham Yosef spoke last week on a radio program, following the Deputy AG's instructions, describing her as a "wretched, small woman whose brains cannot comprehend the essence of modesty, according to our holy Torah, and nobody puts her in her place and tells her to stop with this nonsense. This is hatred of the Torah and nothing else; Israeli law has no connection to Israel's Torah. This is the law of China and India. It is not the law of the Torah; it has no connection to the Jewish faith." Hiddush has submitted a complaint against Rabbi Avraham Yosef and called on Holon's mayor and other officials to disassociate themselves from him.

Despite all of this, our politicians continue to surrender to this horrid ideology which undermines pluralism and Jewish peoplehood - and also the core foundations of democracy and Zionism.

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