RABBI BENNY LAU (left) with President Reuven Rivlin..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Benny Lau, one of Israel’s most prominent religious-Zionist rabbis, had a farewell seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) attended by over 400 people this past Saturday afternoon – his last Shabbat serving as rabbi of Ramban Synagogue in the Katamon neighborhood.
Rabbi Lau, nephew of former chief rabbi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and first cousin of the current chief rabbi, David Lau, has served as rabbi of Ramban for 18 years, arriving from Kibbutz Saad in the South.
The event started with refreshments in the courtyard and then proceeded to the sanctuary, where members paid tribute with words and song.
Yair Goldshmit, who represented the young members, spoke how Lau is very much in touch with reality and always strives to make Judaism relevant and engaging. Prof. Joseph S. Bodenheimer, former president of the Jerusalem College of Technology, reflected on how Lau transformed Ramban from a synagogue to a multi-layered community.
Rabbanit Carmit Feintuch, the spiritual leader of Ramban said, “Rabbi Lau showed me that being rabbi is really about being a social worker and knowing how to behave and help people in many situations – from the hospital, hospice and shiva house to the wedding and bar mitzvah celebrations. I learned so much from his sensitivity and humanity.” She added, “Rabbi Lau synthesized Torah and humanity in a natural way, which is a lesson I will take with me.”
Rabbanit Noa Lau, Rabbi Lau’s wife, described how he initiated programs to enhance the status and involvement of women; for instance, women taking part in Simhat Torah and Purim celebrations and enhancing the quality of their education and providing them with leadership opportunities. She said that they would continue to live in the community and looked forward to coming to visiting Ramban and maintaining the friendships they made.
Lisa Cohen, another member of the community, said, “On a personal level, Rabbi Lau was able to connect with us. When we asked him for advice he was able to help us see things in another, fresher perspective.”
In his closing address, Lau spoke about how he had seen the community develop from one of a few families, into a “real community” based on the principles of Torah, prayer and acts of kindness. He also referred to the challenges of being a spiritual leader of a community with such a heterogeneous membership and like Noa, said he looked forward to seeing the community continue to flourish and impact broader Israeli society.
On Monday evening, Lau gave his last popular Halacha (Jewish Law) class, which addresses how Orthodoxy deals with contemporary issues. During the class, he held a photo of his grandfather, the famous Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, who was killed in the Holocaust. He explained that by making Judaism relevant to the challenges of modern times, he was “following in the footsteps of my grandfather.”
Lau said as rabbi at Ramban, he tried to focus on two major issues within Orthodoxy – how Orthodox Judaism needs to relate to the LGBT community and how to make the Jewish ritual life more accessible to the handicapped. He spoke with passion about how he had attempted to make these two sectors feel as equal and a respected part of the mainstream. One example he gave was that he believed that kohanim (priests) who are handicapped should be able to carry out their duties in the synagogue and referred to the harsh criticism he has received for saying this from leading rabbis, including Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein.
Although it unclear what Lau’s next move will be, it is expected he will focus on his 929 Bible program and continue with his busy speaking schedule.
Rabbi Itiel Oron will replace Lau as the rabbi of the shul.
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