Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's unholy alliance with Israeli rabbis

Middle Israel: How does a rabbi excuse a transgression of the Ten Commandments? Well, the same way Catholic clergy once sold repentance notes known as indulgences: for money.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu with Rabbi Haim Druckman in 2012. (photo credit: AVI OHAYON/GPO/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu with Rabbi Haim Druckman in 2012.
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON/GPO/FLASH90)
"God don’t make mistakes, that’s how he got to be God,” said Archie Bunker in the 1970s’ sitcom All in the Family.
Yes, God don’t make mistakes, but his aspiring messengers do. That certainly goes for the flock of rabbis who over the past quarter-century have followed blindly Bibi Netanyahu, a profoundly secular man who has made a mockery of the faith they so loudly profess, and the morality they claim to uphold.
The syndrome budded already in 1993, when Netanyahu publicly confessed an extramarital affair. Not only did that mean infidelity – and therefore a violation of the family values in the name of which those rabbis attack homosexuality; that affair was with a married woman, meaning adultery.
How does a rabbi excuse a transgression of the Ten Commandments? Well, the same way Catholic clergy once sold repentance notes known as indulgences: for money. No, no rabbi took money this way to his pocket, heaven forfend, but if Bibi would bring billions of shekels to ultra-Orthodox yeshivot or West Bank settlements, then what the heck, let an adulterer head the Jewish state.
The precedent was thus set, and Netanyahu’s subsequent sins would prove easier to swallow and implicitly forgive, from the viewpoint of the rabbis who this way vindicated the Talmudic insight (Kiddushin 40a) that once a man performs a sin, he no longer realizes it is actually forbidden.
That is how, after having turned a blind eye to Netanyahu’s personal conduct, the entire Orthodox establishment said nothing when Netanyahu’s disparagement of Judaism proceeded to the public sphere, as he admitted into his cabinet Arye Deri, a convicted criminal of whom the court said that his “life’s routine was persistently founded on bribery.”
Bribery is not just one of Judaism’s many prohibitions. It is expressly prohibited in the Pentateuch, where Moses said of it what remains accurate and relevant thousands of years on: “you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just” (Deuteronomy 16:19).
Even so, two batteries of rabbis – United Torah Judaism’s and religious Zionism’s – said nothing of the crime and its perpetrator, while a third, the rabbis of Shas led by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, altogether dismissed the court’s verdict and also turned Deri into a martyr, and his political apparatus into a golden calf.
Understandably, then, the same rabbis who said nothing of Deri’s crimes when they were exposed, said nothing when Netanyahu made him a member of the security cabinet, the Israeli executive branch’s holy of holies.
Yes, Deri had dutifully served his time, but that did not make him eligible to take part in running the country that convicted and jailed him.
Can anyone imagine Menachem Begin or David Ben-Gurion including a convicted criminal in their governments? True, in their days there was no such political constellation, but that doesn’t mean Netanyahu had to make that appointment. If he didn’t want to use the moral argument “making you a minister would be legal, but it would also stink,” then he could have at least used the political argument “I don’t want to set the precedent of installing a former convict in the cabinet.”
AT THAT point, while seeing the nonchalance with which Netanyahu was readying to have a bribe taker help run the Jewish state, one could have expected someone from among his rabbinical groupies – say, Haim Druckman, or Shlomo Aviner, or Zalman Melamed – to rise on his feet and say: this is an abomination, bribery is forbidden by the Torah. But none did.
Having accepted in their midst a criminal who had been punished, it came naturally for those eye-rolling rabbis to ignore the indictment that now implicated not their idol’s ally, but their idol himself, also in alleged bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust in three difference cases.
And having tolerated all this, the self-declared guardians of Jewish law also remained silent while the prime minister libeled the prosecution, the press, and Israel Police for having allegedly conspired to unseat him.
That this is the attitude of ultra-Orthodoxy’s rabbis, while revolting, is after all expectable, as is their ongoing harassment of immigrants as they try to convert, sabotaging the national interest while laundering other people’s adultery, bribery and theft. Such rabbis care for their ghettos, not for the state, and the judiciary that Netanyahu badmouths is from their viewpoint at best a nuisance, at worst a sham.
But what about Rabbi Druckman and the rest of the ultra-Zionist rabbis, the ones who think that the Jewish state is part of God’s messianic plan, and therefore sacred: Did they forget Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s dictum (Ethics of the Fathers 1:18) that the law – alongside truth and peace – is one of the three pillars on which the world rests?
IN ONE of this corrupt era’s most telling campaign ads, observant singer Ariel Zilber claims that “framing is done daily” and marks “the attorney” as one out “to unseat a prime minister,” while hailing “Benjamin, God’s friend,” a play on Moses’s blessing to the tribe of Benjamin (Deuteronomy 33:12; never mind that Benny Gantz is also Benjamin).
Faced with this widespread religious refusal to apply to Netanyahu the most basic Jewish judgment that his record begs, one might as well reply, in the spirit of Pete Seeger’s lines, and in Bob Dylan’s tune:
Where have all the rabbis gone? / Long time passing / Where have all the rabbis gone? / Long time ago / Where have all the rabbis gone? / Bibi has picked them every one / When will they ever learn? / When will they ever learn?
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.