Commentary on last month’s election for Israel’s chief rabbis portrayed an
overly simplified contest between two religious camps.
A stark choice was
presented, between candidates allied to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world and
those representing the religious- Zionist movement. This convenient, yet
thoroughly misleading delineation would have us believe that our new Ashkenazi
chief rabbi, David Lau, is little more than a haredi pawn, detached from the
realities of modern Israel. However, this could not be further from the Rabbi
Lau that I have come to know so well.
Having had the pleasure of working
alongside him for many years, I wholeheartedly threw my weight behind Chief
Rabbi Lau’s campaign. Time and again, I have witnessed a man utterly dedicated
to the service of the public, the entire public. Year after year, I have admired
a rabbi who passionately views Judaism as a gift for all Jews, regardless of
their level of observance. Chief Rabbi Lau is in short a rabbi for all
The keenly-fought campaign and its unmistakable political
dimension led some to question whether there is a need for a state-sponsored
While the role of the institution and more widely, the
place of religion in Israel deserve wider discussion, the election of Chief
Rabbi Lau should dispel any immediate concerns over the relevance of the Chief
Rabbinate to our society.
After all, prior to his new role, Rabbi Lau
served for 17 years as the chief rabbi of Modi’in Maccabim- Re’ut, the city of
which I am mayor. During that time, Chief Rabbi Lau proudly served as the
heartbeat of civic life, helping oversee and realize the development of a large
city renowned for its diverse population and pluralistic outlook. Modi’in is
home to a range of thriving synagogues and religious services for communities
across the religious spectrum.
Chief Rabbi Lau makes no pretence of being
anything other than an Orthodox rabbi, yet he has been instrumental in shaping
the openness and tolerance which is the hallmark of religious life in our city.
It is no coincidence that prior to his arrival in Modi’in, Chief Rabbi Lau also
headed the religious authority in Shoham, another city renowned for its
diversity. Ultimately, he has thrived in these positions because at the root of
Chief Rabbi Lau’s religious conviction is the belief that Judaism is the
heritage of every Jew.
Modi’in is also characterized by a deep commitment
to Zionism and the welfare of the State of Israel. Countless veteran Israelis
view Modi’in as the cutting-edge future of our country. Meanwhile, numerous
immigrants have settled in the city, in a fulfilment of their ideological desire
to build a home in the land of our ancestors. With this type of motivation, it
is perhaps no wonder that for the second year running, IDF recruitment figures
revealed that our municipality has the highest recruitment rate in
It is therefore not by chance that Chief Rabbi Lau, who served
Modi’in for so many years, shares this commitment to serve the country and is
himself a reserve Major in the Intelligence Corps. At a time when public debate
is focused heavily on the involvement of the haredi community in our armed
forces and elsewhere in society, I cannot think of a religious figure better
qualified to help ensure a just and peaceful resolution than Chief Rabbi
Not only does Chief Rabbi Lau possess the intellectual, experiential
and religious credentials to be a major moral force in our country, but he is
also a great communicator.
For several years, he has made regular media
appearances, effectively communicating religious ideas and thoughts to
mainstream Israel. While some great halachic minds remain closeted among books,
texts and yeshivot, Chief Rabbi Lau has always been determined to spread
knowledge far and wide.
However, that is not to say that he craves media
attention. In actual fact, as many residents across Modi’in will testify,
Israel’s new chief rabbi is a man of profound humility. Without fanfare, over
the years he has routinely walked long distances during Shabbat in order to
preside over or attend one synagogue or another, often to share in a simcha or
visit the needy.
Again, away from the glare of the spotlight, Chief Rabbi
Lau delivered classes open to all every Thursday night at the homes of city
residents. He has always set a personal example of a man dedicated to serving
the public in its entirety, way beyond those within his own circle.
as Chief Rabbi Lau’s outlook and dedication have helped create a diverse city
which has thrived beyond all expectations, he now embarks on the challenge of
translating this success to the national stage. I have no doubt that he will
work determinedly to replicate the Modi’in model of an all-inclusive, vibrant
and tolerant community for the sake of all Am Yisrael. The battle for chief
rabbi may be over, yet all Israelis are the winner with the election of Chief
Rabbi Lau.The author is the mayor of Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut.
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