Rabbi Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, published a letter saying that the abduction of the three missing boys last Thursday was the result of attacks on the religious status quo.
Lior took aim specifically at a bill currently before the Knesset proposed by MK Elazar Stern to reform the conversion process, making it more accessible.
Stern pilloried Lior’s response, calling it a “desecration,” and he accused Lior of using the kidnapping for political purposes.
In his letter published on Wednesday night, the rabbi, one of the leaders of the hardline, conservative wing of the national-religious community, explained that it is a Torah obligation to examine one’s deeds when tragedy occurs.
He said that while the nation is in distress over the kidnapping of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil- Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, it must ask why the suffering has befallen the country now.
Lior answered in his letter that recent laws in the Knesset dealing with matters of religion and state were designed to “blur the uniqueness of the Jewish people and make it like the other nations, God forbid.” These actions in the legislature caused the crisis.
“Unfortunately, we are witnesses to a severe deterioration in the approach of the government to the Jewish image of the state,” wrote Lior. “There are aggressive laws whose common denominator is the erosion of the Jewish character of our public life – for example, in regards to harming the family unit, injuring the conversion process [as prescribed] by the Torah and attempting to harm the requirement that a convert accept the fulfillment of the Torah and the commandments.”
A bill to reform the conversion process and make it more accessible, advanced by Stern (Hatnua) and drafted in conjunction with moderate national-religious figures, has faced withering attack from the ultra-Orthodox sector and the Chief Rabbinate, as well as from conservative elements in the national-religious camp and members of Bayit Yehudi.
Writing on Facebook Thursday afternoon, Stern heavily criticized Lior’s comments, saying that the rabbi’s words meant he believed “the kidnappers carried out God’s will because the Knesset is trying to pass a law to prevent intermarriage,” in reference to his bill that is designed to increase the number converts from the community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
“There is no limit to the desecration of God’s name, and the political and religious leadership are silent,” Stern said, possibly in reference to the absence of comment from Bayit Yehudi. “Is the cynical and political use of such a painful event – when the nation is uniting around the heroism of the families [of the kidnapped boys, something] that instills national pride in us all – something that can be seen as routine?” he asked, and he again criticized the lack of response to Lior’s words.
Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah, a moderate national-religious lobbying group said in response to Lior’s letter that it would be better to concentrate on national unity than to try and understand the mind of God.
“In these days, we call for the preservation of mutual responsibility and the feeling of unity that exists right now in Israel,” the group said in a statement to the press. “This means an obligation upon us not to flog each other with our sins. Attempts to interpret tragedies because of one sin or another are likely to injure families experiencing the tragedy, and are also somewhat arrogant, because who are we to pretend to know the ways of the Creator?” NTA said that the public should concentrate on supporting the families of the kidnapped boys, continuing support for security services and intense prayer for the safe return of the abducted teens.