Israelis from the bottom to the top – storekeepers to government ministers and agency heads – have come out to protect Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s tenure.
Israel Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau told journalists on Wednesday there was “no intention to dismiss Rabbi Riskin. While dealing with this issue we have been hearing statements attributed to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel that are inappropriate and inaccurate.
“It troubles me to see that this matter regarding Rabbi Riskin continues to be blown so far out of proportion,” Rabbi Lau told Israel’s Channel 10 News.
The story began two weeks ago, when the issue of tenure for local rabbis was raised at a meeting of the Chief Rabbinical Council. At that time, there was a request to extend the term of office for Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. The rabbi is one of the founders of the city in which he serves and lives, located in Gush Etzion, just 10 minutes away from Jerusalem.
Normally the process is pro forma, but apparently there were some on the Council who had reservations about extending Riskin’s tenure due to his views on conversion and a few other issues.
Those issues were reportedly raised at the meeting.
Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, who joined the Council several months ago, was one of those who supported the extension of Riskin’s term. He asked the Council to postpone any decision on the matter, and it was decided to first invite the Efrat rabbi for a discussion prior to any final move.
News of what went on in the meeting was leaked to the media, however, and a brouhaha resulted.
Education Minister Naftali Minister, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky and numerous others all spoke out to defend Rabbi Riskin. All had pointed questions for a Chief Rabbinate that would dismiss a community’s chief rabbi who had helped build a city and was still seen as a hugely popular spiritual leader.
The public power struggle began to deteriorate instead into an issue of who gets to make decisions on Jewish issues in the State of Israel and at which levels of government.
Ultimately, said Lau, “the Rabbinical Council reviews extension of a local rabbi’s tenure in a meeting with that individual along with his relevant documents. An exception is made when the extension of his term comes in the month prior to mandatory retirement – and thus the debate over Rabbi Riskin’s term extension was postponed so as to invite him to meet with the Council to discuss the matter.
“This has been the standard procedure in the past, and it will remain so in the future,” he added. The legal authority to extend the statutory tenure of local chief rabbis rests with Israel’s Chief Rabbinical Council, Lau pointed out. “It is not a ‘rubber stamp’ process, nor does the Council automatically confirm the extension of a rabbi’s term in office, unless it first properly examines his application,” he noted. “We repeat: pressure and threats will not force us to make shortcuts or deviate from what is a necessary process.”
Rabbi Riskin’s office responded to JewishPress.com saying, “We hope the matter will indeed be resolved. Our only objective is bringing Am Yisrael closer to Torah and Mitzvot. Rabbi Riskin is dedicated to continue serving the residents of Efrat.”