In interview with 'Post,' MK David Rotem he will work towards appointing national-religious rabbi to post of chief rabbi.
By JEREMY SHARON
Yisrael Beytenu MK David Rotem said that following the upcoming election he will work toward having a national- religious rabbi appointed to the post of chief rabbi.In a wide-ranging interview with The Jerusalem Post last week, the outspoken MK also said that he opposes state recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis, marriages and conversions in Israel, and that his party remains in favor of a “population for land” settlement with the Palestinians, where Israel would gain sovereignty over settlement blocs while Arab towns in Israel close to the Green Line would be exchanged in return.He also emphasized his party’s Jewish-nationalism credentials and its support for “traditional” Jewish practice, but said that it was opposed to what he termed “religious politics,” which he accused ultra- Orthodox parties of indulging in, instead of religion.Responding to his comments on non-Orthodox denominations, MK Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz denounced the “dark opinions” of Rotem, and accused him and his party of having “betrayed its voters in favor of an Orthodox monopoly.”Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, also condemned the remarks, calling Rotem “one of the most dangerous political forces in the Knesset when it comes to democratic values and the value of pluralism...who stands against the idea that the State of Israel should be the beating heart of all Jewish people and all its streams.”Ahead of January’s general election and favorable polling figures for national-religious party Habayit Hayehudi at the expense of the joint Likud- Yisrael Beytenu list, Yisrael Beytenu has been promoting itself as a natural party for national-religious voters given its strong emphasis on Jewish nationalism and the Jewish identity of the state.AdvertisementRotem said that one of his central goals was for a national- religious rabbi to be appointed as chief rabbi when the terms of current chief rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar end next year.“I want to have a nationalreligious chief rabbi,” said Rotem. “I grew up when the Chief Rabbinate was a national- religious institution and I’m not in favor of the fact that haredi rabbis have taken it over.”The MK said that he intended to speak to the various national-religious rabbis who are considering running for the position in order to convince them that a consensus candidate should be found.Rotem added that a chief rabbi need not be an outstanding Torah scholar, but instead be able to speak and communicate effectively as an ambassador for Judaism. His comments about the position of chief rabbi were made in the context of the public debate surrounding both civil marriage and conversion in Israel.Civil marriage is unavailable in Israel between people of the same or different faiths, largely due to the objections of the Orthodox establishment who argue that instituting it will create irreconcilable divisions within the Jewish people.But civil marriage is a hotbutton issue for Yisrael Beytenu because of the large number of voters the party attracts from Israelis originally from the former Soviet Union, many of whom are not defined as Jewish according to Jewish law and therefore cannot marry other Jews in Israel.During the last Knesset, Rotem and Yisrael Beytenu succeeded in passing a law legalizing civil marriage between two people officially defined as being “without a religion,” although this status does not apply to the vast majority of people seeking civil marriage.Rotem also sponsored legislation promoting civil unions for people of different religions, or of the same religion who nevertheless do not want a religious wedding, which he said was originally the idea of former Sephardi chief Rabbi Bakshi Doron from whom he sought advice for his bill.He said during the interview that he did not want to promote full-fledged civil marriage because he wanted to stay within the boundaries of Jewish law, although an earlier bill proposed by Rotem allowing a couple to register as married even if their wedding in Israel was not conducted by an Orthodox rabbi was voted down in the Knesset in 2008.Rotem also defended his proposed legislation for reforming the conversion process which was criticized by both Orthodox and non- Orthodox factions.The issue is also important to the Yisrael Beytenu’s core constituency because of the approximately 320,000 Israelis from the former Soviet Union who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law.The bill would have allowed every municipal or city rabbi to conduct conversions, and allowed anyone to approach any such rabbi for conversion regardless of where they or the rabbi lived. But the bill would also have given the chief rabbinate greatly increased control over the process, something which the non-Orthodox factions objected to vehemently.“I want conversion to be done according to Halacha, I don’t want it to be a joke, that someone says ‘I’m a Jew’ and then they’re Jewish,” Rotem said. “Yisrael Beytenu is not against Orthodox Judaism.[Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman] knows what Judaism is and what respect for religion is more than most of members of Israeli Knesset...he understands the importance of Judaism.“The Reform and Conservative [movements] don’t care about those 320,000 people because they won’t become Reform or Conservative. We will not recognize non-Orthodox rabbis, conversions or marriage,” the MK said.“I don’t want them to convert in this country because I don’t need Conservative and Reform communities in this country. In this country you can be Jewish, religious or not religious, and I don’t want to change this. I don’t want a Reform rabbi to check my dishes,” he added.Kariv said that Rotem’s comments prove that “he is the best ally of the haredi parties in the Knesset” and that “there is no connection to the so-called liberal open-minded rhetoric of Yisrael Beytenu in religion and state and his actions in Knesset.”During the interview, Rotem also addressed the issue of army enlistment for the ultra- Orthodox and defended his and his party’s decision to leave the Plesner Committee earlier this year, which had been tasked with devising new legislation to increase haredi participation in national service programs.Rotem and Yisrael Beytenu abandoned the legislative effort because the proposals being drafted would not have enacted the same obligations and penalties on Arab citizens as it would have on haredi citizens, he said.“This was not equality in the burden of national service,” Rotem claimed. “It is about time that everyone served the country and everyone went to the army. I don’t believe in doing it gradually... and I’m not willing to say that only Orthodox guys go to the army but Arabs should be free.”Arab citizens are not required to do military or national service although there are approximately 2,000 Israeli Arabs who volunteer for national service programs every year.He also rejected the proposal made by Arab leaders at the time that they would only discuss the issue of national service in the Arab sector if at the same time discussions and proposals were adopted to address disparities between the Arab and Jewish populations in terms of education, employment and representation in the public sector.“You first give your part to your state because you are a citizen and citizenship is a partnership,” he said.Rotem said that Yisrael Beytenu does not seek to punish anyone who does not serve but instead will retract government benefits to anyone who fails to do so.“If you want to sit and learn, then sit and learn on your own account,” said Rotem of full-time haredi yeshiva students.“I’m not going to give you money, not for housing, and not for other state subsidies either... If someone chooses not to be a partner with me and he chooses to live in poverty, good luck to him.”Addressing Yisrael Beytenu’s stance regarding Israel’s Arab citizens, Rotem brushed aside concerns that the party’s policies are further alienating the Arab minority, and reiterated Yisrael Beytenu’s policy of exchanging “population for land.”“Taiba [an Arab-Israeli city abutting the Green Line] is going to be part of the Palestinian state and Gush Etzion is going to be part of the Jewish State,” Rotem said.The MK dismissed concerns about the legality of such a policy under international law, arguing that general populations are not consulted in international treaties and pointing to population transfers which have been affected in other conflicts.The Universal Declaration of Human Rights forbids a state from arbitrarily depriving a citizen of their nationality.“I see their representatives, I listen to them every week and I’m not willing to be in a position that my citizens will stab me in the back. I’m not willing to accept it,” he said. “I want [Arab citizens] to be loyal, I want them to be equal citizens I don’t want to discriminate against them, I want them to serve in national service and be able to study... but they have to understand that the State of Israel is a Jewish state and that we are here to stay and they will not be able to throw us out of here.“This is a Jewish country, the only homeland of the Jews,” Rotem said. “We don’t have any other place, we don’t have any other country. Anti-Semitism is visible around the world, and we are not going to run away again.”
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