A chief rabbi for the good of all Israelis

Commentary on last month’s election for Israel’s chief rabbis portrayed an overly simplified contest between two religious camps.

Rabbi David Lau 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Rabbi David Lau 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Commentary on last month’s election for Israel’s chief rabbis portrayed an overly simplified contest between two religious camps.
A stark choice was presented, between candidates allied to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world and those representing the religious- Zionist movement. This convenient, yet thoroughly misleading delineation would have us believe that our new Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, is little more than a haredi pawn, detached from the realities of modern Israel. However, this could not be further from the Rabbi Lau that I have come to know so well.
Having had the pleasure of working alongside him for many years, I wholeheartedly threw my weight behind Chief Rabbi Lau’s campaign. Time and again, I have witnessed a man utterly dedicated to the service of the public, the entire public. Year after year, I have admired a rabbi who passionately views Judaism as a gift for all Jews, regardless of their level of observance. Chief Rabbi Lau is in short a rabbi for all Israelis.
The keenly-fought campaign and its unmistakable political dimension led some to question whether there is a need for a state-sponsored Chief Rabbinate.
While the role of the institution and more widely, the place of religion in Israel deserve wider discussion, the election of Chief Rabbi Lau should dispel any immediate concerns over the relevance of the Chief Rabbinate to our society.
After all, prior to his new role, Rabbi Lau served for 17 years as the chief rabbi of Modi’in Maccabim- Re’ut, the city of which I am mayor. During that time, Chief Rabbi Lau proudly served as the heartbeat of civic life, helping oversee and realize the development of a large city renowned for its diverse population and pluralistic outlook. Modi’in is home to a range of thriving synagogues and religious services for communities across the religious spectrum.
Chief Rabbi Lau makes no pretence of being anything other than an Orthodox rabbi, yet he has been instrumental in shaping the openness and tolerance which is the hallmark of religious life in our city. It is no coincidence that prior to his arrival in Modi’in, Chief Rabbi Lau also headed the religious authority in Shoham, another city renowned for its diversity. Ultimately, he has thrived in these positions because at the root of Chief Rabbi Lau’s religious conviction is the belief that Judaism is the heritage of every Jew.
Modi’in is also characterized by a deep commitment to Zionism and the welfare of the State of Israel. Countless veteran Israelis view Modi’in as the cutting-edge future of our country. Meanwhile, numerous immigrants have settled in the city, in a fulfilment of their ideological desire to build a home in the land of our ancestors. With this type of motivation, it is perhaps no wonder that for the second year running, IDF recruitment figures revealed that our municipality has the highest recruitment rate in Israel.
It is therefore not by chance that Chief Rabbi Lau, who served Modi’in for so many years, shares this commitment to serve the country and is himself a reserve Major in the Intelligence Corps. At a time when public debate is focused heavily on the involvement of the haredi community in our armed forces and elsewhere in society, I cannot think of a religious figure better qualified to help ensure a just and peaceful resolution than Chief Rabbi Lau.
Not only does Chief Rabbi Lau possess the intellectual, experiential and religious credentials to be a major moral force in our country, but he is also a great communicator.
For several years, he has made regular media appearances, effectively communicating religious ideas and thoughts to mainstream Israel. While some great halachic minds remain closeted among books, texts and yeshivot, Chief Rabbi Lau has always been determined to spread knowledge far and wide.
However, that is not to say that he craves media attention. In actual fact, as many residents across Modi’in will testify, Israel’s new chief rabbi is a man of profound humility. Without fanfare, over the years he has routinely walked long distances during Shabbat in order to preside over or attend one synagogue or another, often to share in a simcha or visit the needy.
Again, away from the glare of the spotlight, Chief Rabbi Lau delivered classes open to all every Thursday night at the homes of city residents. He has always set a personal example of a man dedicated to serving the public in its entirety, way beyond those within his own circle.
Just as Chief Rabbi Lau’s outlook and dedication have helped create a diverse city which has thrived beyond all expectations, he now embarks on the challenge of translating this success to the national stage. I have no doubt that he will work determinedly to replicate the Modi’in model of an all-inclusive, vibrant and tolerant community for the sake of all Am Yisrael. The battle for chief rabbi may be over, yet all Israelis are the winner with the election of Chief Rabbi Lau.
The author is the mayor of Modi’in Maccabim-Re’ut.