The country’s new chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, were sworn in at
the President’s Residence on Wednesday.
The gala ceremony was held in the
presence of dignitaries including President Shimon Peres, Justice Minister Tzipi
Livni and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben- Dahan.
next 10 years the two chief rabbis will likely have a profound influence on
Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora, particularly in matters of conversion,
marriage, divorce and personal status.
Yosef, who is also the president
of the High Rabbinical Court, is the seventh Sephardi chief rabbi since the
establishment of the state, and Lau, who is president of the Chief Rabbinate
Council, is the seventh Ashkenazi chief rabbi The father of each was a chief
rabbi before him.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was the third Sephardi chief rabbi
holding office from 1973 to 1983 and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was the fifth
Ashkenazi chief rabbi and held office from 1993 to 2003.
In his address,
Peres, who donned a large black kippa for the occasion, said that the people of
Israel had a long history, but little territory. Yet even during the long years
of exile following the destruction of the Temple, they did not lose their
identity, because they continued to maintain the value of Torah study in all the
lands of their dispersion.
Even with the destruction of so many Jewish
communities during the Holocaust, the Jewish spirit was unbroken and was a vital
factor in the rebuilding of the ancient homeland into the modern and vibrant
State of Israel, he said.
In this context Peres noted the presence of the
Ashkenazi chief rabbi’s father and uncle Naftali Lavi, the sole survivors of
their family in Poland, and said that it was always a moving experience to be in
Peres urged the rabbis to take advantage of their
privileged position and to reach out to the public, “religious and
nonreligious,” and to tear down walls of divisiveness, suspicion and
Peres said that he saw no contradiction between Judaism and
democratic values, that democracy had been born in the cradle of Judaism, and
that every human being is created in the image of God.
“That is the
foundation and the essence of democracy,” he asserted.
recalled that the first time that he was in the Presidential Residence was 40
years ago as a young man when he came to his father’s inauguration ceremony. At
that time, his father urged his fellow rabbis not to put obstacles in the path
of the public and to speed up the processing of cases and not leave them
gathering dust for months and years without the problems of people concerned
being resolved, Yosef said. It was untenable, his father said, for a convert to
Judaism whose status had been rabbinically approved, to be caught up in a
bureaucratic tangle that went on indefinitely, because ministerial authorities
were reluctant to recognize the change in status.
cases, he had said, should be dealt with and concluded swiftly.
chief rabbi intends to follow his father’s example.
In his role as
president of the High Rabbinical Court, he said he sees himself as the
representative of all the people of Israel, of all streams of Judaism and of all
Yosef concluded his address with an appeal to the
media to “give us a chance.” If the media tries to delegitimize the Chief
Rabbinate, he said, it will not be able to function properly.
“We have to think of each individual and work toward their well-being, he said.
Soon after his election, he continued, he was approached by a journalist who
told him about a woman named Hofit whose husband has been in a vegetative state
for seven years with no hope of recovery or improvement.
wanted to know what he could do to help Hofit out of her predicament, because
there is no way that her husband can give her a divorce so that she can free to
lead a normal life.
Lau’s reply had been that he wasn’t sufficiently
familiar with the details of her case, but he promised to leave no stone
unturned in the library of Jewish law until he found a solution for her,
“because from now on, her problem is my problem.”
Livni said she was
gratified by the attitudes of the two chief rabbis, particularly because they
will have an impact on the lives of people who had nothing to do with voting
them into office.
She referred to people whose Judaism is in question and
may therefore not be able to get married in Israel, Russian immigrants who are
not halachically Jewish hut are trying to convert and Jews in the Diaspora who
feel increasingly estranged from the extreme elements of Judaism in
“These are voices that are not heard,” she said.
entreated the rabbis to find a sensitive balance between the Jewish and the
democratic State of Israel, and asked them to promote a brand of Judaism that is
moderate, reaching out and embracing. “That’s what I want my sons to pass on to
their children,” she said.
Noting that there had been a connection
between Lau’s family and her late parents, Livni said that she had been pleased
to learn that Chief Rabbi Lau is a 39th-generation rabbi.
for 21 years served as the directorgeneral of the Rabbinical Courts system, and
who for years has actively engaged in helping agunot and women whose husbands
refuse to grant them a divorce, to regain their freedom, told the chief rabbis
that the High Rabbinical Court was the last stop for such women – their last
hope and ray of light. He said that the rabbis must find a way to introduce a
clear system that will obligate the granting of a divorce as close as possible
to the date on which the court decrees the appellant to be entitled to a
divorce. “The eyes of all other rabbis in Israel are upon you, and you must be
the paradigm,” he said.
Rabbi Uri Regev, president of Hiddush – Freedom
of Religion for Israel, in a written statement castigated the chief rabbis and
the Chief Rabbinate, saying that the chief rabbis had declared their allegiance
to the State of Israel but not to the Laws of Israel.
He regarded the
whole procedure as a disgrace, and charged that even the wording of the
declaration was indicative of the extent to which the Chief Rabbinate and its
courts are not representative of the State of Israel.