Letters to the Editor January 3. 2022: On his knees

Readers of The Jerusalem Post have their say.

Letters (photo credit: PIXABAY)
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

On his knees

I agree wholeheartedly with the editorial “Time to resign, chief rabbi” (December 31).

The question that I have is will Rabbi Lau pay a shiva call to the family of that poor 24-year-old woman, a victim of Chaim Walder, who committed suicide last week?
Not only should Chief Rabbi Lau resign, but he should get down on his knees (yes I know that getting down on one’s knees is not a Jewish thing) and beg for forgiveness of this woman’s family on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate, the people of Israel, and especially those of the haredi world who knew about this monster Walder for years and did nothing to bring his evilness to an end. 
After Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and now Chaim Walder, how many more instances of this kind of abuse in the so-called frum world will come to light and be the source of future desecrations of God’s name?
Let us all hope and pray that this is it.

 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.  (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. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Although your somewhat biting editorial calling for the resignation of Chief Rabbi Lau may not be entirely without merit, it nevertheless sounds like the piece was hastily put together without giving too much thought. Dealing with two completely different issues under the same heading is most assuredly tricky. As a consequence, it’s not entirely clear if you are addressing Rabbi Lau specifically or the position of the chief rabbi of Israel as an entity. Both fit, which is indicative of an uncertain point of view.

Rabbi Lau’s shiva call to those mourning the death of Chaim Walder without having made some contact with his victims – I’ll let you decide if the adjective alleged is required – is indeed troublesome. Providing, that is, you are not following the Queen of Hearts’ policy of first the sentence and then the verdict. It’s not entirely impossible that Rabbi Lau – or his office – have in fact reached out to those Walder hurt, but quietly, without TV cameras or sound bites. I don’t think that a callous attitude toward those Walder took advantage of warrants outright resignation, but let’s wait until we’re sure of the verdict before issuing the sentence, don’t you agree?
Moreover, I do wish that you and the current government would stop treating conversion as if it were a bureaucratic process with a rubber stamp “APPROVED” waiting at the end. It is, if anything, an emotional and spiritual transition that can neither be hurried nor condensed. I understand the desire to have a more humane protocol, but quite frankly, if I had to choose between one that was humane and one that was unerringly based on Torah law, I would choose the latter every time.
And while I have the world of respect for Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, I do wish she would remain within the perimeters of her assigned responsibilities and authority and not interfere in matters she is neither sufficiently knowledgeable about or experienced in. If she and some of her coalition partners had their way, there’d be a hut set up in the center of Tel Aviv called the Switchin’ Post with an Elvis impersonator sporting a black kippah and beard handing out conversion certificates as if they were M&M’s candies.   
So please walk back your call to have Rabbi Lau resign. Should in fact the chief rabbi be called to account for negligent behavior unbecoming his position and calling, it will be to an appropriate higher authority.

After reading several articles about the Chaim Walder suicide in your paper, I am very disappointed. Some articles were saying that there is no place to get help in the haredi community. That is false. I volunteer, here in Israel, for the Orthodox Women’s and Children’s Crisis Hotline called TAHEL.

 All over Mea She’arim and Bnei Brak there are signs saying that TAHEL is evil. In addition, because the phone number (*2511) is widely publicized to be used to ask for help in the face of abuse, people have been calling the hotline and threatening TAHEL. The good news is that people are also calling for help against the abuse they are experiencing. A call for help is at *2511.
The deniers are the evil people who are spreading and encouraging silence in their communities. We need many brave leaders to speak up, loud and clear, against all abuse.

Crossing the line

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau has demonstrated conclusively that he is unqualified to remain in his position (“Lau threatens to stop approving conversions if reform passes,” December 30). Lau is obligated to perform his duties in accordance with laws enacted by the people’s elected representatives. Like any citizen, Lau may freely voice his opinion on proposed legislation. However, he crosses the line when he threatens to withhold approval of otherwise qualified new members of the faith if his personal preference does not hold sway. 

The proposed reform plan aims to make conversion more accessible, allowing municipal chief rabbis to establish conversion courts. Lau justifies his opposition to the plan, asserting that it would cause a “significant rift” among the Jewish people. Sadly, Lau seems unaware that the Chief Rabbinate’s unbending exercise of monopoly control over the most basic Jewish life events is already causing the rift he claims to fear.
Lau would hold prospective Jews hostage to his political whims. Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata correctly observed that this would cause serious harm to new immigrants undergoing the conversion process (among others).
Not surprisingly, Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri supports Lau’s stance on this issue. This is the same Deri who just agreed to plead guilty to tax offenses, pay a NIS180,000 fine and resign from the Knesset. Recall that he previously was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister, and was given a three-year jail sentence. His opinion carries no weight on matters of ethics in government.
No doubt any other government appointee who threatened to withhold performance of his duties because he opposed a proposed law would be fired, and rightly so. The same applies here. Lau should resign so that he may continue to speak out as a private citizen against the proposal he strongly opposes. Failing that, he should be removed forthwith from his position.
EFRAIM COHENZichron Ya’acov

Chief Rabbi Lau says the proposed reform will cause “serious injury to the Judaism of the State of Israel.” What does he think the current system is doing? Consider the situation of hundreds of thousands of olim who entered Israel from the Former Soviet Union, where they were denied the ability to learn about Judaism, let alone practice their faith, but were subjected to discrimination because “Jew” was stamped on their identity cards. Not only did the rabbinate not offer introduction to Judaism classes to the “Russian” olim, the rabbis put barriers in the paths to conversion for the significant number who were not Jewish according to Halacha. This has left many people unable to marry in Israel, but that won’t stop them having children, which will only increase the number of Israelis who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish and Israeli law!

Or the case of Yosef Kibita, a Jew from Uganda and member of the Abayudaya sect which began adhering to Old Testament customs in the 19th century as they became disenchanted with the failure of Christian missionaries to adhere to the original words of the Bible. Mr. Kibita has lived all his life as a Jew but also underwent conversion under Masorti auspices (once in Uganda and again in Israel). He has been living on Kibbutz Ketura since 2018 but has been denied the right to receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. As I write this, he is facing imminent deportation from Israel despite the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court that conversions by the Masorti and Reform movements should be recognized for making decisions on a person’s bid to make aliyah.
And, of course, this is not just the matter of one person’s status. The problem is Israel’s refusal to recognize the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, putting them at a disadvantage. Israel provides funding for Orthodox synagogues and their clergy, but offers much less, if anything at all, for Masorti and Reform institutions and clergy.
Israel is the nation-state of the Jews, not only haredi Jews. It is in the interest of the nation-state of the Jews to maintain its Jewish majority. Representatives of the state should be welcoming those non-halachic Jews who are open to undergoing conversion, whether under haredi or non-haredi supervision.

Major blunder

Morton Klein’s article “Dangerous and ludicrous” (December 30), in which he argues that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was “fatally flawed,” overlooks many key points, including that pulling out of the original agreement by former president Trump in 2018, with substantial encouragement by former prime minister Netanyahu, was a major, possibly historic, blunder, enabling Iran to get much closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon. Please consider:

  • Because of the initial agreement, Iran got rid of 98% of its enriched nuclear material, disabled two-thirds of its centrifuges, and disabled a nuclear reactor by filling it with concrete.
  • There were extensive, possibly unprecedented, inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and this group of professional inspectors certified many times that Iran was compliant with the deal, before Trump pulled out of the agreement.
  • While many Iranian statements and actions must be strongly condemned, it is essential that disputes with Iran be solved diplomatically and not militarily. Attacking Iran would likely result in major problems for Israel, the US. and the world, including retaliatory attacks and increased terrorism and a major increase in oil prices, possibly leading to a worldwide recession.
  • Most military and strategic leaders including several retired Mossad and Shin Bet leaders, believe the US should return to the agreement since it is the best approach for preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Happy New Year

Barry Newman makes an interesting point regarding a mid-winter break being beneficial to the public, and by default good for the economy at the same time (“Celebrating January 1 in Israel? Why not?” December 30). He says that the day is recognized as the start of the new calendar year with no specific reference or sanctity related to Christianity. This is not quite the case, as originally, the day was celebrated for a reason that connected Christianity to Judaism. This is also possibly the reason why the powers that be did all they could to change the reason for celebrating.

With the birth of Jesus on the 25th of December, his Jewish parents were obligated to perform his brit milah eight days later. This is the first of January, and until around 1950 was celebrated as the feast of the circumcision. The various Churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox) had no problem with the celebration being so named.
Something a little more curious is that there is a place named after the celebration, having been discovered by Captain Charcot on the first of January 1909.
The French Antarctic Expedition under his command sailed into the cove, and named it Port Circumcision. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, it seems.

Home, sweet home

I was impressed with the tone and substance of editorial question posed on December 27 (“PM’s home”) about residency of the prime minister. It is certainly understandable for the prime minister’s family not to wish to move in to Balfour Street amid extensive renovations. However this was never given as the cause. Rather, it was stated that the family did not want to disrupt its routine life in Ra’anana to move to Jerusalem. This denial of the changing role of the family from private to public was further displayed when the family traveled for vacation while the rest of the nation was told to stay home. 

We have come a long way societally, from the “good wife” syndrome which always put the husband’s interest first in family decisions. However, public office and public service require a total commitment, and anyone who wishes to enter that realm will do well to realize beforehand that it does involve the entire family. Those who have failed to acknowledge it in the past such as Bess Truman in the US have put at least a damper on the office, and ultimately a negative impact on the officeholder.
It is to be hoped that once the renovations are complete, the first family will take helm in its rightful place in Jerusalem.