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National religious Rabbi Stav,left, and Haredi Rabbi Metzger, right.

National religious Rabbi David Stav has based his campaign to become Israel’s next Ashkenazi chief rabbi on a message of inclusion, friendliness and tolerance. But in an exclusive interview with JTA, he had harsh words for those who have attacked him in recent weeks.

The attacks began two Saturday nights ago, when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef used his weekly speech to call Stav “evil.” Rabbi Yosef, Israel’s chief Sephardi spiritual and legal authority, said that Rabbi Stav, who has painted himself as a reformer,  is “dangerous to Judaism, dangerous to the rabbinate and dangerous to Torah.”

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One day later, some Haredi Orthodox youth took the rabbi’s words to heart and literally pushed Rabbi Stav around as he danced at a wedding.

And then last Thursday, the man whom Stav hopes to replace, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, was questioned for fraud and money laundering and placed under house arrest for five days, preventing him from being in communication with other suspects and from leaving the country.

No indictments have been charged, but in Israel, public figures, especially those who are right wing or religious, are considered guilty until proven innocent.

Rabbi Stav wouldn’t comment directly on Metzger’s arrest, but said earlier in the interview that Israel “needs a rabbinate not ruled by corrupt politicians but by God-fearing people. The people of Israel want a Judaism that speaks not in threats and curses but in a pleasant language and ways of peace.”

He insisted that he only wants to make the rabbinate more user-friendly, not to change Jewish law. He’s against instituting civil marriage in Israel and won’t recognize non-Orthodox conversions. But the Haredi orthodox leadership in Israel doesn’t seem to believe him.

Rabbi Stav told JTA that if elected, he wants to strengthen the chief rabbinate’s relationships with Jewish communities outside Israel. One of his goals would be to push for a unified international standard of kashrut.

“The Israeli rabbinate is not just the top institution in the Jewish state but is also a formal authority for Jewish people worldwide,” he said. “We want a permanent dialogue with the different organizations and rabbinates in the United States and different places in the world.”

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