Chief Rabbi David Lau must resign - editorial

Judaism, the beautiful religion upon which this state is built, is being warped by these political shenanigans.

 Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau attends a ceremony of the Israeli police for the Jewish new year at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau attends a ceremony of the Israeli police for the Jewish new year at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau paid a shiva mourning period visit this week to the family of haredi author Chaim Walder, who was facing numerous allegations of rape and sexual assault of minors at the time of his suicide. The visit drew condemnation and questions about why Lau has not also reached out to the victims. This is a serious error on Lau’s part, and illustrates yet another bad choice by religious authorities in this country.

We expect our institutions, both secular and religious, to take sexual assault and abuse of children seriously. But there has unfortunately been a lapse all around, with far too many cases of abuse across Israel being revealed. This includes allegations of sexual harassment in the police force and Israel Defense Forces. A former Israeli president was sent to prison for rape. There have also been well-known celebrities, politicians and others at the center of sex scandals, whether it be in the LGBT community or the religious world.

Let us not forget the case of Malka Leifer, the former principal whose case dragged on for years before she was extradited to Australia to face trail for sex-abuse charges. In that case, religious figures were also seen showing support for the accused and not for the victims.

What will it take for religious leaders in Israel to stand with victims? Is there no shame that our chief rabbis are not rushing to comfort the vulnerable, and instead we too often hear silence?

While Lau’s office put out a statement saying we must not ignore harassment, and that these acts should be “uprooted,” the words are not enough.

 Chaim Walder (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Chaim Walder (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The haredi media have ignored the victims and reported on the death of “Rabbi Chaim Walder” without mentioning the severe allegations against him.

Defenders of Lau’s visit will say the family is innocent and this is just honoring them, not the accused. It is under that guise of religious obligation, these defenders claim, that Lau went to the shiva.

However, nothing prevents the same chief rabbi from meeting victims, showing them support, and sending a message to communities to stop ostracizing victims and stop the conspiracy of silence that often surrounds abuse allegations. If we want to stop the next case, we must send a message from the highest levels that victims should speak out, and that abusers will not only face justice but also public shame.

Lau’s decisions in this case are not the only misstep befalling the Chief Rabbinate.

Lau threatened on Tuesday to stop approving conversions if the government’s plan to reform the system for Jewish conversion is passed. In this case, the rabbi is against the removal of a head of the Conversion Authority. As a result, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel called for Lau to be removed from his position.

Once again the rabbinate leader operates in the guise of religion, pretending that this is about defending the Jewish people’s integrity. However key voices in the government have warned that this is an implied threat and a kind of extortion directed at the government. Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata warned that an attempt to stall conversions would harm immigrants who are undergoing the process.

“Needless to say, the new immigrants required to complete the conversion proceedings are mostly a weakened group, which has left behind its entire world and property, and therefore stopping the issuance of conversion certificates and conducting political battles at their expense is a serious and disproportionate violation,” she said.

Judaism, the beautiful religion upon which this state is built, is being warped by these political shenanigans. Nowhere is it written in Jewish law that rabbis should halt conversions to get back at the government. The whole nature of our rabbinical authorities increasingly appears less and less like anything related to historic Judaism in its actions and abuse of powers.

We are supposed to welcome and love converts, not harm the vulnerable because of arguments at the political level. Taken together, these two missteps represent a reason that Chief Rabbi Lau should be fired so we can have renewed confidence in this damaged institution.