(EFRAT- July 6, 2015) The Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin made his first public statements following a month-long ordeal where Israel’s Chief Rabbinate held up the extension of his rabbinic tenure.
Speaking at a reception of Efrat residents hosted by Mayor Oded Ravivi to mark the continued tenure, Rabbi Riskin stated that he was forced to “rely on reports in the media” regarding his standing, and that the Rabbinate never attempted to reach out to him directly to explain the reason for the unprecedented delay in extending his tenure. (Editor’s note: JewishPress.com was the first to report on the tenure extension crisis in English.)
The ordeal began when the Chief Rabbinate decided not to automatically renew Rabbi Riskin’s post and instead chose to delay their decision as they examined the merit of extending his thirty-two year tenure as Efrat’s religious leader.
“The Rabbis didn’t speak with me at all,” said Rabbi Riskin. “From the moment they chose not to automatically extend my tenure, I didn’t receive any indication from any of the members of the Chief Rabbinate whether they intended to renew my position. Even the rumors that I was to be invited for some sort of hearing turned out to be false,” Rabbi Riskin continued.
Responding to claims that some of his Halachic rulings were deemed problematic by a few members of the Rabbinate, Rabi Riskin stated, “I am sure all of my decisions are based on accepted Halachic precedent. Even the rulings that some viewed as too far ‘outside the box’ are based on decisions by former Chief Rabbis. This is a debate about differing ideological paths.”
Rabbi Riskin also spoke about the Kashrut issue that has been publicly debated in recent days. The Rabbi reminded his audience that it is in the interest of the Rabbinate that Kosher food be readily available to as many Jews as possible.
“The Chief Rabbinate must ensure that Kosher food is accessible to all the Jews in Israel, and that it is done so at the lowest possible cost to the general public. It should be their highest priority that as many Jews as possible eat Kosher. This is not what is happening right now with the latest decisions. The Rabbinate should be opening its arms in acceptance and limiting divisiveness in Israeli society,” Rabbi Riskin concluded.
In his comments, Rabbi Riskin urged the Chief Rabbinate to dedicate itself to a more inclusive outlook on Israeli society and return to the vision for the institution set out by the original Chief Rabbi Kook which was intended to respond to the needs of all the Jewish citizens of Israel.
(Jerusalem) Rabbi Riskin is pleased and honored to continue to serve the residents of Efrat, and the extended community, as the City Rabbi as he has done his entire life with an unwavering commitment to Halacha and the laws of the State of Israel.
The attempt by the Chief Rabbinate to oust Rabbi Shlomo Riskin as Chief Rabbi or Efrat is doomed, and the rabbis will extend his term after meeting on Monday, the Hareidi Kikar Shabbat website reported.
If the rabbis could have their way, they would vote against Riskin, but they fear a media and public backlash, according to the report.
The issue arose several weeks ago when it was reported that rabbis in the Chief Rabbinate do not like Rabbi Riskin’s views on conversion and his liberal attitude towards women.
He has reached the age of 75 and needs permission from the Rabbinate to continue serving.
An argument broke out in the Rabbinate between the majority of rabbis and the legal department, which said that a rabbi’s medical condition is the only grounds they can use to refuse to extend his term.
After the attempt to oust Rabbi Riskin was exposed, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Naftali Bennett said:
I do not accept the attempt to demote a public servant because of his opinions and then say it is because of his age. Rabbi Risking helped established Efrat, and he has merits that do not allow his being used as a political target.
He is allowed to have a different opinion, and shutting the door to other opinions is prohibited.
The attitude of the Chief Rabbinate can be discerned from a recording of comments by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, who was quoted earlier this month by Kikar Shabbat as saying:
We say in daily prayers every morning, ‘God has not made me a woman,’ not like someone from Efrat who comes up with all kinds of new ideas makes news and wages wars.
The phrase “”make news and wage battles” is a reference to another prayer in the morning prayers, in which it is recited that God “brings about new developments and is the Master of wars.”
A senior official in the Chief Rabbinate told Kikar Shabbat:
We estimate that his term will be extended. The rabbis in the council have an interest that Rabbi Riskin will commit himself to be subject to the Chief Rabbinate. There is a strong doubt that he will agreed to do so, but the rabbis will try.”
Legally, they cannot vote to oust Rabbis Riskin without medical proof that he is not fit for office.
Rabbi Riskin’s views on conversion and women do not fit in with the Hareidi Orthodox model.
The Chief Rabbinate, still a bastion of Hareidi power, has lost the trust of Israelis who once respected it, especially when Hareidi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was in office. The charismatic rabbi never let his opinions get in the way of reaching out to all Israelis with understanding, something that is totally lacking in the Chief Rabbinate today.
Their refusal to accept any other opinion in the Orthodox world only makes them more vulnerable to a collapse of their authority under the weight of pressure from the Reform community.
Below is a video of Rabbi Riskin’s explanation on this week’s Torah reading of Balak:
Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi and co-founder of the Judean settlement of Efrat, rubs Israel’s Chief Rabbinate the wrong way. His liberal stance on conversion, women’s involvement in religious rites and other issues is now causing the rabbinate to threaten not to renew his contract, as he has turned 75. A slew of rabbis and public officials have come out in support of his continued tenure. Riskin joins Yishai to discuss his relations with the Chief Rabbinate and his positions on Jewish law.
Then, in this week’s Torah portion in the Book of Numbers, “Naso,” God gives direction to the Jewish priests on how to bless the Jewish people: “May God light His face unto you.” But does God really have a face? In preparation for Shabbat, Rabbi Mike Feuer joins Yishai to discuss the Priestly blessing, the Nazarite and the seemingly repetitive offerings of the tribe leaders.
A groundswell of support for Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is growing around the country, with the latest outcry coming from Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky.
Forces in the Israeli Chief Rabbinate are reportedly attempting to pressure Riskin into an early retirement from his long-time position. The rabbi is one of the founders of the Judean city of Efrat, which was built in Gush Etzion in the early 1980s, about ten minutes’ drive south of Jerusalem. Riskin is deeply popular with the city’s residents.
“The Jewish People, and particularly the people of Efrat, deserve the continued service of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a Jewish leader and Israeli patriot,” Sharansky said in a statement released Wednesday.
“Rabbi Riskin’s contributions to Aliyah, to building the State and Land of Israel, to connecting the Jews of the Diaspora to their homeland, and to connecting all Jews to the Torah, are of historic proportions.
“In view of these outstanding and unparalleled achievements, there should be no questions about his qualifications for his continued service,” Sharansky said.
The agency leader is known throughout the Jewish world for his history of maintaining his intention to move to Israel, despite major government persecutions by the Soviet Union.
Once freed from prison, Sharansky immediately made good on his public claim and moved to the Jewish State.