President Moshe Katsav has relented on his decision about how to address Conservative Rabbis.
For the past week, Katsav has been saying that he was prepared to use the word 'rabbi' when addressing Conservative and Reform Rabbis in English, 'but will not use the word 'rav' when addressing them in Hebrew.
However, when Rabbi Dr. Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice President of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism called on Katsav on Wednesday, he was addressed both as 'rabbi' and 'rav'.
How did he get the President to back down?
"With a lot of mutual understanding," he told The Jerusalem Post.
When Epstein entered the President's office, Katsav welcomed him without using his title in either Hebrew or English.
The two men engaged a little Jewish small talk, "but we both knew what the issue was" said Epstein.
Eventually, they got to the subject at hand.
Katsav explained as he has done many times in recent days that he was brought up to believe that only an Orthodox Rabbi was deserving of the title 'Rav'.
Epstein's response was that to him as a Conservative rabbi, it was painful not to be recognized by the President of Israel.
"I don't mind calling you Conservative Rabbi," said Katsav.
"It's demeaning to call me Conservative Rabbi," responded Epstein.
"You don't say Orthodox Rabbi."
"If I call you Rabbi in English, is that okay?" asked Katsav.
That was fine with Epstein but he added the corollary, that if Katsav was to address him in Hebrew, he expected him to call him 'Rav'.
"If I came to you and said I'm Dr. Epstein, which I am, you wouldn't ask me where I went to school or at what level I got my degree.. You would just call me Doctor."
Katsav thought about this for a moment then conceded that he would.
Epstein took the argument a step further, pointing out that he frequently attended services at Orthodox synagogues where he was often called to the Torah with the Harav prefix to his name.
"No Orthodox Rabbi would accept me as a posek (interpreter of halacha)," he told Katsav, but he has respect for me. "I'm not making decisions on halachic matters for the Orthodox community. I make decisions for the Conservative community."
Katsav bought the argument and told Epstein "I have no problem calling you Rav. I have no problem calling all Conservative rabbis Rav."
Epstein believes that he reached an understanding with Katsav because they talked the matter through with mutual respect and without recrimination.
He declined to comment on the dispute between Katsav and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the World Union for Reform Judaism.
"Let's just say I chose to handle it differently."
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