The great medieval Jewish scholar Ibn Ezra once said: “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” Meaning that the best way to explain the beauty of Judaism is not through strictures and admonishments, but through positive and productive interaction with our ancient religion.
Few people embody this ideal more than Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, who has dedicated his life and rabbinical career to ensuring that Judaism is sensitive to every human being and responsive to all universal concerns.
His work has impacted on so many lives, not least of which my own family.
Many years ago, when we were looking for a school for my daughter in Gush Etzion, it was suggested that we send her to Riskin’s girl’s school. The welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere there helped my daughter embrace Judaism and become observant, which helped our whole family move closer to the tradition we were deprived of in the former Soviet Union.
Riskin has been an outspoken advocate of making Judaism more obtainable and attractive for the uninitiated and unobservant through organizations such as Tzohar and Beit Hillel. He also was a brave early supporter of the so-called “Tzohar Law,” originally written by Yisrael Beytenu, to open the choice of place of registry for a couple wishing to get married to anywhere in the country, and of the easing of conversion.
Perhaps because of this support, he has been marked by increasingly radical elements within the Rabbinate.
According to reports, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate has decided not to immediately renew his tenure as chief municipal rabbi of Efrat.
For most rabbis reaching the age of 75, there is usually a “rubber stamp” approval from the Rabbinate to continue for another five years.
In Riskin’s case, however, it was demanded almost unprecedentedly that he appear for a hearing on whether he will receive this extension. It has been suggested that there is currently a majority in the Rabbinate for discontinuing Riskin’s tenure.
There are many who worry that he will be made an example of and send a message that a Judaism of unity and openness will be subservient to a Judaism of divisiveness and intolerance in the Jewish State.
This cannot and should not be tolerated. The very nature of Judaism is being hijacked in a political turf war.
The Judaism that sustained our people for thousands of years is now a pale of shadow of itself in official 21st Century Israel and those of us who care deeply about it should have their voices heard.
We were too silent when, in 2009, a panel of three judges declared any conversions undertaken by the head of the Conversion Court, Rabbi Haim Druckman, be nullified and invalidated.
Our voices were too muted when, in 2013, during the elections for Israel’s chief rabbi, the national religious candidate Rabbi David Stav, was humiliated and cursed in a desperate, yet sadly successful attempt, to prevent his worthy election.
I am proud that Yisrael Beytenu was the only party to have supported Stav throughout his candidacy.
The attempt to discontinue Riskin’s tenure as chief rabbi of Efrat will have ramifications far beyond the Judean Hills. If successful, it will be the first move in an ongoing attempt to silence all dissent from rabbis across the land.
There will be no more “70 faces of the Torah,” as the Midrash teaches us. Rather, there will be one uncompromising, illiberal and, dare I say it, unauthentic mirage of Judaism that will be enforced on all.
We must draw a redline over the issue of Riskin’s continued service.
We who value and cherish the Torah and our religion must ensure that it is allowed to flourish where each gleans from it meaning and significance.
As Riskin himself says: “The Torah belongs to everyone – from the intellectually elite to the intellectually challenged, from Jews who are observant to those who are far away. Judaism must be made accessible and welcoming to all, because it has a message for everyone.”
At Mount Sinai, the Torah was not given to the elites or the “rabbinate.” It was given to all Jews.
We, each in our own way, have an obligation to protect it and in this we need more Riskins, not fewer.
This is something that should motivate all Jews – secular or religious, Ashkenazi or Sephardi. 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. Judaism compels and requires it.
This must be our red line.The writer is the former foreign minister.