Rabbi Shlomo Aviner.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, an influential figure in the conservative wing of the national-religious community, wrote in response to a question submitted to him that anyone who quarrels or harasses the Chief Rabbinate has the status of din rodef.
Din rodef is a concept in Jewish law that stipulates that if an individual is chasing after another person with the intention to kill them, it is permitted for any other person to kill the individual threatening to commit murder.
The concept has broader applications as well, and has been used to define people who endanger not only individuals but the Jewish community as a whole.
Infamously, several extremist rabbis decreed that Yitzhak Rabin had the status of din rodef before he was assassinated and their pronunciations and the perceived incitement was seen as one of the causative factors in the former prime minister’s slaying.
Aviner has a question and answer column in the popular weekly Shabbat pamphlet Olam Katan.
In last week’s pamphlet, Aviner was asked, “How should one relate to a rabbi who harasses the Chief Rabbinate?” The rabbi responded “Very severely. Rabbi Avraham Shapira said that such a person has ‘din rodef’ against the Jewish people.”
Shapira was one of the leading lights of the national- religious community and a former chief rabbi from 1983 to 1993.
The initial question would appear to be a reference to the fierce controversy in the national-religious community at the moment over the establishment of a new network of conversion courts by several mainstream national- religious rabbis.
Although this conversion has support of senior leaders of the community, other rabbis, including Aviner, have strongly denounced the courts for undermining the central authority of the Chief Rabbinate and potentially causing a division in the Jewish people between those who accept the new conversions and those who do not.
Aviner himself has argued that the conversion courts would divide the Jewish people and that people should “shout out against it unto the Heavens.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Aviner denied that he had meant that rabbis who “harass” or go against the Chief Rabbinate should be killed.
“Anyone who makes that interpretation should either be put on trial for incitement to murder or evaluated psychiatrically as mentally ill and institutionalized,” the rabbi said.
Asked what he had meant by his answer, Aviner said, “Just like there is one prime minister and one military chief of staff, so too there can only be one Chief Rabbinate.”
Although partially describing what his interpretation of “harassing the Chief Rabbinate” was, the rabbi would not be drawn on what the practical implications of defining such people with the status of din rodef meant.
Speaking to the Post, Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association and one of the founders of the new conversion system, described Aviner’s comments as “outrageous,” saying he had never heard of a rabbi calling someone else a “rodef” because he had a different opinion on a matter of Jewish law.
“There is only one interpretation of the words ‘din rodef’ but it is clear to me Rabbi Aviner did not mean to permit [someone] to kill, but this is precisely the outrage, the contempt in the use of words.
“We’ve had ‘taking a D9 Bulldozer to the Supreme Court and now ‘din rodef.’ “Even if someone were to think that we should close the Chief Rabbinate, and this is not my position although it is the opinion of many, do they have the status of ‘din rodef?’” Stav asked.
He also said Aviner was misleading the public in his opposition to the new conversion system.
“It is incorrect to claim there is only one conversion system in Israel, this is a lie, the haredi community does not recognize the conversion of the Rabbinate. It is not clear if Shamai recognized the conversions of Hillel,” Stav noted in reference to the two famous schools of Talmudic thought.