Rabbi Shlomo Riskin at Midreshet Lindenbaum..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Senior political figures spoke out in support of Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin on Thursday, including Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate decided on Monday to summon Riskin for a hearing before deciding whether to grant a five-year extension to his tenure, since the rabbi will reach the retirement age of 75 later this year.
Such a summons is very unusual and, according to sources in the Chief Rabbinate, is a politically motivated step by some of Riskin’s opponents.
Writing in an opinion piece for The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Liberman said that the Chief Rabbinate is sending a message that Riskin’s brand of Judaism – one of openness and unity – “will be subservient to a Judaism of divisiveness and intolerance in the Jewish state.”
Wrote Liberman “We need to send a strong message that the attempt to stifle and harass rabbis, like Riskin, who wish to disseminate Torah beyond the yeshiva walls will not be tolerated,” calling any attempt to prevent him from continuing in office “a redline” In a statement on Thursday morning, Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) said he would also work to thwart any attempt to deny the extension of Riskin’s tenure, saying such attempts were being made on “the false pretense” of the rabbi’s age.
“It’s unthinkable that Rabbi Riskin will be made into a target for political elimination. It’s permitted for him to have alternative opinions, and he must not be silenced.”
Bennett called on the Chief Rabbinate to immediately end its delay in approving Riskin’s continued tenure for another five years and said that he would accompany Riskin to the hearing, set for June 29, if the rabbi is still required to attend at that time.
And Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi), who ran the Religious Services Ministry as a deputy minister during the last government, also spoke out against the behavior of the Chief Rabbinate.
“The Chief Rabbinate doesn’t have any authority to intervene on this issue. Since the citizens and institutions of the city of Efrat elected him and continue to see Rabbi Riskin as appropriate to be their municipal chief rabbi, the Chief Rabbinate has no place to not extend his service,” Ben-Dahan told the Post.
“If, God forbid, he were doing things against the law or against Halacha, there are disciplinary procedures that could be used, but using service extension in this way is not right and was not intended for this purpose.”
On Wednesday, the Post reported on documents obtained by the ITIM religious services advocacy group which demonstrated that in the last seven years no rabbi has been summoned to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.
The Chief Rabbinate said in response that the procedures have recently been changed by Chief Rabbi David Lau and that all rabbis in the future requesting a service extension would be required to appear in front of the council with appropriate medical documents.
The Chief Rabbinate also protested on Wednesday what it described as the “bullying” from different sources “in order to apply illegitimate pressure on the council and to intimidate its members,” and denied that it “rubber-stamps” tenure extension requests for municipal chief rabbis.
However, the documents obtained by ITIM showed that 23 rabbis had their tenure extended between 2008 and 2013 with no evidence that any of those rabbis were summoned to a hearing.
The national-religious lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah said on Thursday that in response to the turmoil generated by the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to summon Riskin to a hearing, it had forwarded its detailed plan for reforming the way in which municipal chief rabbis are elected to Religious Services Minister David Azoulay (Shas).
NTV’s proposal is that municipal chief rabbis be elected for a five- or seven-year tenure, depending on the size of the town or city, after which he could repeatedly stand for reelection for an eight- or 10-year tenure.
The organization said that municipal chief rabbis should continue to be elected in accordance with guidelines recently established by the Religious Services Ministry, guidelines that were drafted following a petition of NTA to the High Court of Justice against the previous method of formulating electoral committees for municipal chief rabbis.
In this way, the power of the Chief Rabbinate to determine for a city’s residents whether a rabbi could remain in office would be removed, NTV said.