Latest update: June 11th, 2013
A thousand words is not enough for a response to the withering attack being mounted against Haredi Zionist rabbis on the matter of selecting a chief rabbi. The not-so-personal case of Rabbi Chaim Druckman, though, is representative. Since I know Rabbi Druckman as a man who takes things to heart in more ways than one, I gave him a call. I consoled him, noting that in my estimation the “threatening” letter to Rabbi David Stav was not published by those who had attended the meeting at his home, but rather by opponents who disseminated the letter in order to get a boost in the media.
“Of course I know that,” said Rabbi Hayim, “but how do you?”
“Rabbi,” I answered, “I may not know how to study a page of Gemara, but I can give a good lesson on how to read a newspaper. The letter doesn’t contain any threat. It’s very strident, but when push comes to shove, it’s as respectful as possible: a last-ditch call to Rabbi Stav not to run for the position of chief rabbi, despite the opposition of a good portion of the national religious rabbinate. The assertion that his candidacy would create a rift between him and them wasn’t intended for the media.
The letter, titled “Threatening Letter from Rabbi Druckman against Rabbi Stav,” was released to the media by PR specialists working for Rabbi Stav, who decided to score some points at the expense of Rabbi Druckman and others who attended the meeting.
Rabbi Druckman sighed. He may have enjoyed my media commentary, but, two months past his eightieth birthday, he has found himself in a war whose rules are not clear to him in the least.
* * * The proof for my thesis quickly arrived with the media gimmick’s second stage: a letter bearing the signatures of a hundred rabbis and lecturers who came out against the “threatening letter” to Rabbi David Stav. He suddenly had become the attack-victim to whom everyone must throw his support. Perhaps they couldn’t gather a hundred signatures in favor of his candidacy, but they could turn the issue on its head: simply gather a hundred signatures against the opposition. And why waste more money than necessary on huge ads in the secular press? Just have those other national religious rabbis labeled in the secular press as old-fashioned fanatics and Haredi Zionists, and let the new national religious trend continue to advance. Secular Knesset members, for their part, including those in the Likud, won’t dare vote for any move to put Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel or anyone else of his sort in the office of the chief rabbi.
I asked a certain friend of mine, a rabbi who had signed the second letter but was not affiliated with Rabbi Stav, why he had put his name to it. Contrary to my view, he felt that the letter to Rabbi Stav was too aggressive, and therefore signed onto the protest letter. He really didn’t know, though, that it would be published in the general media in giant, paid ads.
“They used you, Rabbi,” I said.
“True,” he answered, “but that won’t make me excuse myself from my duty to protest”—even though, he granted, he does not think that Rabbi Stav should be the chief rabbi.
My friend is a principled man. Rabbi Stav’s strategists are a bunch of connivers.
Bennet’s Debt to Rabbi Lior
Rabbi Druckman, who is an example to so many members of the national religious community, thought that since Naftali Bennett and his people had come to him to enlist his support before the elections, they would be faithful to him in the aftermath. Perhaps not absolutely, but at least on basic ideological and spiritual matters, such as selecting a chief rabbi.
No such luck. Or, as it was put this week by Colonel Moshe Hager, head of the pre-military academy system and a divisional chief of staff in the IDF: “You can quote me on this: Bennett is playing with the rabbis. He invited me to meetings with rabbis. After two meetings, I understood that they were for public consumption: at the end of the day, he does what he wants. I’m not going to any more of those.”
* * * Here is a statement of defense against the sophisticated campaign that is playing out in the media, brought to you by one old-fashioned but authentic advocate:
Why would you expect the leaders of the Jewish Home to listen to rabbis who didn’t get them elected?
Bennett and his associates did receive mandates from secular voters, but he would not have been able to assume leadership of the Jewish Home if not for the rabbis who gave him their support: Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Aviner, even Haredi Zionists Rabbi Dov Lior and Rabbi Eliezer Melamed. All of them oppose Bennett’s candidate, Rabbi Stav. If these rabbis had taken a stand against Bennett, he never would have made it into the list of Knesset candidates. The leaders of the Jewish Home have got to understand that rabbis are not a disposable commodity.
Why should rabbis decide questions of public policy (the big question)?
We always saw rabbis as our leaders in all things spiritual, not just in strictly halachic matters. Now some people want to reduce the rabbis to kashrut supervisors, while making themselves into the spiritual leaders. Yet we have not yet forgotten the days when Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu waged a public fight against the Disengagement, or the days of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook in the hills of Samaria.
But it’s more than that. If the rabbis don’t get to make a decision even when it comes to the matter of choosing rabbis, that means we aren’t really interested in public rabbinic leadership at all. It means that we want our rabbis to be good spokespeople, not great Torah scholars.
That “something new” that is getting started in the Jewish Home is really a certain style of self-interested competition in which the opposition is crushed by a horde of PR specialists, strategists, and plenty of money. Until recently, most of the activists of the Religious Zionist community were not familiar with this way of doing business, but—sadly and embarrassingly—they are quickly becoming acquainted.
First published in Makor Rishon (print edition)
Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg
About the Author: Lt.-Col. (ret.) Meir Indor is CEO of Almagor Terror Victims Association. In his extended career of public service, he has worked as a journalist, founded the Libi Fund, Sar-El, Habaita, among many other initiatives, and continues to lend his support to other pressing causes of the day.
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