J'lem rabbi candidate calls for religious tolerance in city

National-religious candidate Rabbi Aryeh Stern warns against a reality in which the capital becomes a city for religious Jews only.

Kotel 2 311 (photo credit: Wayne Stiles)
Kotel 2 311
(photo credit: Wayne Stiles)
The national-religious candidate for the position of Jerusalem’s chief rabbi warned against a reality in which the capital becomes a city for religious Jews only, and called for more tolerance – from both secular and religious residents – to prevent such a scenario.
“It must be a capital for all the people, a united city,” Rabbi Aryeh Stern said on Wednesday.
Stern, who heads the Halacha Brura and Birur Halacha Institute, is the rabbi of the Har Horev community synagogue in the Katamon neighborhood and teaches at various yeshivas, noted the special sanctity of the city marking its 44th year of unification.
“When you are in Jerusalem, you don’t just look at Jerusalem – you look at the entire country. I hope a degree of holiness will emanate from here,” he said.
The rabbi was decisive in his answer when asked if the Holy City, becoming more and more religious, can bear to lose its nonobservant population.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
“We must do what we can to prevent that.”
“The correct thing to do is to live in mixed areas of secular and religious residents rather than separate neighborhoods,” he continued.
“Not everybody agrees with me. But I see great importance to it. We cannot make it a city for religious people only, where secular people won’t feel at home.”
To keep secular residents in town, “what is needed is tolerance, and mutual concessions. Secular people should make concessions, but so should religious people. I am not happy when I see my neighbor driving on Shabbat, that goes without saying, it is even difficult for me to greet him when I see him like that, but he knows how I feel about it,” Stern said.
“One cannot accept the city becoming one for religious people only; it must be a capital for all the people, a united city” – with the Hebrew word for that unification, “huvra,” stemming from the word for friendship, “haverut” – “where everyone should be friends and belong. Jerusalem was not divided among the tribes, since it doesn’t belong to anyone – it is completeness, and should bond and unite everyone. The mayor is making great efforts to that end; he rightly considers it one of his central missions, and is reaching achievements,” Stern said.
“Jerusalem must not become a sectorial city; it cannot happen. Careful and wise tolerance must be brought in.”
To Stern, the Israel Museum – which has been open on Saturdays for many years and can be entered using tickets bought in advance – is a good example of a way the capital can retain its cultural appeal, even on weekends.
“There is cultural activity that does not necessarily entail desecrating Shabbat,” he said.
“It is hard for me to accept a public body, that represents all of us, desecrating Shabbat. But on the other hand, there are other options.”
Jerusalem has had no chief rabbi since 2002. The process to elect rabbis for the city was recently relaunched. In Jerusalem, the rabbis are elected by a body composed of 48 people – 24 representatives of synagogues, 18 from the city council and another six who represent the religious services minister.
As a lesson from past failures to agree on a candidate and lose campaigns to the haredi sector, three senior national-religious rabbis – Haim Druckman, Yaakov Ariel and Aharon Lichtenstein – were chosen to select a candidate.
The three appointed a committee of 30 men, who in August 2009 selected Stern as the one and only national-religious contender for the position of Jerusalem’s chief rabbi.
If he were elected as one of the city’s chief rabbis, without diminishing the importance of the city’s religious services such as kashrut supervision, Stern has a broader vision for the role of the capital’s rabbi.
“My vision is to create cooperation and joint activities for all sectors in the city – secular, religious, haredi. To create projects that would promote good ties, to hold unifying activities. I hope that my rabbinic standing would help create common grounds with the haredi public,” he said.
“The secular and nationalreligious communities need a rabbi who is a public leader,” Stern continued.
“There are many questions that pertain to the ongoing communal conduct, such as whether lectures on temporal topics can be given in synagogues.
I have a vision to create a forum of community rabbis (the haredim have less of a need for such an assembly) composed of dozens of rabbis with whom I am in contact. The forum would be permanent, and determine guidelines and rules that could be common to all the communities. The problems that arise in Givat Ze’ev are no different than those in Givat Masu’a,” he said, noting geographically distant parts of the capital.
“This will be an opportunity to speak together as rabbis, public figures, synagogue managers. I think it would be like cool water to a tired soul.”