Dozens of National Religious rabbis on Wednesday signed a letter supporting the candidacy of Tsfat Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, to the post of chief Sephardi rabbi.
On Monday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed Rabbi Eliyahu that he would not be allowed to present his nomination, due to controversial remarks he had made in the past regarding Jewish-Arab relations. AG Weinstein said in a letter to Rabbi Eliyahu that his candidacy for chief rabbi would be “unsuitable.”
This does not mean that the AG is able to prevent Rabbi Eliyahu’s nomination, but the letter could be seen as a shot across the bow, signaling that, should the rabbi win the post, the AG would petition the High Court to annul the vote.
The statements in question, which have long been dubbed by Israel’s anti-religious media as “racist,” had to do, among other things, with whether or not Jews in Eretz Israel were permitted to sell or rent homes to gentiles. In a specific, individual, ruling—which was misquoted and taken completely out of context by the media—Rabbi Eliyahu prohibited the sale or rental of apartments to Arab students at the Tsfat college.
When interviewed this week by several outlets, it turned out that Rabbi Eliyahu’s opinion has either been modified following the attacks on him, or—which I suspect—has always remained grounded in normative halacha, which offers a righteous gentile living among Jews many protections, unless he is suspected of constituting a danger.
In other words, an Arab would not be prohibited to live in Tsfat because he is “impure” racially, but because he or she, as specific individuals, are behaving in a way that can be perceived as dangerous.
While I, personally, continue to believe Rabbi Eliyahu would be a terrible choice for chief rabbi, because of his inability so far to absorb the notion what an enormous effort is required in order for a faithful Jew to communicate in positive terms with secular Israelis and with a hostile media—I can’t help admiring the heartfelt support for the embattled rabbi from his peers.
The letter supporting Rabbi Eliyahu’s candidacy was signed, among others, by Rabbi Avichai Ronski, Rabbi Avraham Zuckerman, Rabbi Eitan Eizman, Religious Services Deputy Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, Rabbi Eliakim Levanon, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Rabbi Elisha Vishlitzky, Rabbi Amnon Sugarman, Rabbi Ben Zion Elgazi, Rabbi Benny Kalmanson, Rabbi Haim Druckman, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, Rabbi Haggai Lundin, Rabbi Israel Rosen, Rabbi Shabtai Sabato, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner.
The letter called on Rabbi Eliyahu to continue in the tradition of service of his late, righteous father, Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, and announce his own candidacy. The rabbis described Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu as “a scholar and a renaissance man who devotes his life to to the people of Israel, through great sacrifices, with love and a bright countenance to every person, whomever they may be.”
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, dean of Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tikva, said the AG’s disqualifying of Rabbi Eliyahu “crossed some serious red lines.”
Noting that he and Rabbi Eliyahu have had great disagreements on several issues, and despite the fact that the same rabbi had written “ugly, public things” about him, and even though Rabbi Cherlow absolutely disagrees with everything Rabbi Eliyahu had to say about the controversial issues on which he ruled, it was still a very grave error on the part of AG Weinstein to involve himself in the democratic process over what is distinctly a candidate’s views, rather than his conduct.
Had there been any accusation of corruption against the candidate, the AG would have been well within his rights, even his duties, to disqualify him. But “using the force of the law against views that are unpopular with the powers that be” is alarming, according to Rabbi Cherlow, who went on to call on AG Weinstein to rescind his statement regarding the candidacy.