Newly elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau intends to use his post to unite not only Jews in Israel but also the Jewish people all around the world, Lau said in a message to world Jewry delivered exclusively through The Jerusalem Post on Thursday night.
Lau defeated Rabbi David Stav for the Ashkenazi chief rabbi post and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef beat Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for Sephardi chief rabbi in Wednesday’s election. Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett intends to pass legislation to ensure that after their 10-year terms, there will be only one chief rabbi.
While Lau and his loyalists spent the day reaching out to Israelis and reassuring them that he would represent all sectors of society, he said it was also important to him to reach out to Diaspora Jewry.
“Judaism belongs to all Jews in every sector all around the world, whether they live in Manhattan, Manchester or Modi’in,” said Lau, who most recently served as chief rabbi of Modi’in. “I want more Jews to learn about their Judaism and feel a part of the Jewish people.
We need to focus more on what we have in common and create unity in the Jewish world.”
Lau, 47, vowed to build connections between Diaspora Jewry and the Jewish state. To that end, he intends to create a forum of international Jewish leaders who can learn from one another about how to better connect Jews to their religion.
A source close to Lau said one way would be to use technology.
As chief rabbi of Modi’in, Lau pioneered an “Ask the Rabbi” online service 13 years ago. He also moved most of the cumbersome bureaucratic process of registering to get married to the Internet.
“Keeping Jewish law is very important and there are ways to integrate it with modernity to ease the challenges of bureaucracy and make people more comfortable with how religious services are provided in this country,” Lau said.
Lau and his father, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, joined Yosef at the Jerusalem home of Yosef’s father, Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in an emotional meeting on Thursday. David Lau thanked Ovadia Yosef for helping him win the election and both fathers said they felt proud to see their sons follow in their footsteps.
The new chief rabbis, accompanied by the elder Rabbi Lau, then held a festive meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at his Tel Aviv office.
“You are the rabbis of all the people of Israel,” Netanyahu told them at the start of their meeting. “In line with the famous Jewish commandment, ‘One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself,’ I congratulate you with all my heart. You are the rabbis whose help, spirit, patience and tolerance the nonreligious public needs.”
Shas leader Arye Deri downplayed his role in Yosef’s election but also said that had the rabbi not won, he would have quit his post as head of the party. He revealed that he even wrote a resignation letter that he would have submitted had Yosef been defeated.
Meanwhile, the blame game continued in Bayit Yehudi, which did not succeed in the party’s goal of electing religious- Zionist chief rabbis.
Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan blamed the losses on disunity in the party and what he called an active effort by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to ensure Eliyahu’s defeat.
Stav told Army Radio that “hacks who have no connection to society or the state” acted to secure Yosef’s election and defeat him, “to ensure the continuation of the Yosef family’s kashrut certification business.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid wrote on Facebook that the Chief Rabbinate was an irrelevant institution, which due to Wednesday’s election would remain irrelevant for another decade. He said alternatives needed to be created for non- Orthodox Jews to bypass the rabbinate. •