Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Rabbi David Lau has a reputation of a nice guy, popular with the residents of his town of Modi'in, both religious and secular. Now it appears that to get his job as Chief rabbi he made a deal with some extremist Haredi forces.

Three weeks after the stunning knockout a coalition of Haredi and Hardali (National religious Haredim) politicians delivered to Jewish Home and its hapless leader, Minister of Religious Services Naftalli Bennett, Ma’ariv reveals the price that had to be paid before the approval of Rabbi David Lau by the extremist Haredi camp: control over non-Haredi conversions.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve heard nothing but praise for the new Ashkenazi chief rabbi, who, as rabbi of Modi’in, a typical mixed religious and secular Israeli town, has shown the kind of moderation and acceptance one expects of a rabbinical shepherd. Some, like National Religious pundit Menachem Rahat, have gone so far as to suggest that under normal circumstances—meaning before the overwhelming sweep of Jewish Home and the ousting of the Haredim from government—someone as sweet and accepting as Rabbi David Lau would not have stood a chance to be selected, and that he was picked only as a desperate response to the popular Rabbi David Stav, a National Religious scholar and leader who was going to revamp the chief rabbinate.


And it worked. Like Menachem Rahat, the prevailing tone of the National Religious commentators following Lau’s election (and Stav’s defeat) has been that at least Rabbi Lau is a nice guy, a moderate, a uniter, not a divider.

All those well wishers may have to reexamine their praises now. According to Ma’ariv, in closed conversations Rabbi David Lau conducted with some Haredi decision makers before the vote, he gave them his commitment that all of his ruling regarding conversions would be submitted to a review by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, the man who gained his reputation as the killer of Rabbi Chaim Druckman’s thousands of kosher giurim-conversions.

Back in May of 2008, the Supreme Rabbinical Court judges Rabbis Hagai Izirer, Avraham Sherman and Avrohom Sheinfeld annulled thousands of conversions done by two National Religious rabbis, determining that:

“First, all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Chaim Avior and Rabbi Chaim Drukman must be disqualified; second, conversions can be retroactively annulled for those who are not observant.”

Attorney Susan Weiss, founding director of the Center for Women’s Justice (JOFA), told Ynet in 2008 that the verdict had far-reaching implications on thousands of people who underwent conversion in the last few years—and on their children.

Much has been written and said about the case, which had territorial war written all over it. It was the first case of such massive, retroactive annulments of giurim-conversions, and the fact that the injured rabbis were renowned National Religious figures, while the court that destroyed their decades of work—as part of the chief rabbinate!—was comprised only of Haredim, was a sign that the Haredim were determined to annul not just the conversions, but also the foothold of the religious Zionists in the Chief Rabbinate.

In the spring of 2012, Israel’s Supreme Court re-affirmed the validity of the thousands of conversions disqualified retroactively by the Rabbinical Court in 2008, but stopped short of saying the rabbinical courts did not have the authority to annul conversions.

Still, the justices did not spare the rabbinical court their criticism. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote in the verdict:

“The Rabbinical Court of Appeals rode roughshod over basic procedural rules and the principles of natural justice. It demonstrated contempt for the special conversion courts, and above all, it hurt and did a shocking injustice to the petitioners and their children.”

Maariv spoke to Rabbi Sherman who confirmed the story about the condition for Rabbi Lau’s election. According to rabbi Sherman, Rabbi Lau met with Rabbi Yosef Efrati, a confidant of the late Rabbi Elyashiv, leader of the Lithuanian Haredim.

“Rabbi Lau told Rabbi Efrati that on all matters regarding conversions he would come to talk to me and consult in me before reaching a decision, because I have been involved in these issues as a confidant of Rabbi Elyashiv, and I am familiar with his rulings on these matters.”

And so the circle is complete: the most fundamental driving force behind the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav, the celebrated chairman of the Tzohar organization, dedicated to making life under halacha more palatable for secular Israelis, was the brutal treatment of thousands of converts by Rabbi Sherman and his co-justices. Now it is clear that not only did the Haredi politicians manage to subvert the attempts to ease their hold on religious life in the country, but that Religious Zionism has lost the most crucial battle of that campaign. The forces that gave us the disqualification of thousands of Jewish lives are back at the helm, stronger and smarter.


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Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth,,, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


  1. It's time for Israel to dump both chief rabbis, stop paying rabbis, and become an officially secular state as it was envisioned to be. If the haredim have a problem with that they can all move en masse to another theocratic state where they should feel right at home — Iran. Few will miss them.

  2. I don't know what Mr Yanover has heard for the past few weeks, but anyone looking at the results of the chief rabbi election from the day it was announced knew that it was a triumph of extremism and a capitulation of all that might have suggested change.

    R. Lau is opposed to drafting Charedim ( he says their inclusion in the army should not be coercive – well what the hell is a draft, if not coercive). We've already seen how the leadership of the Charedim have gone out of their way to ostracize and vilify any of their kids who go into the army; it is obvious that there cannot be just voluntary participation when the community openly discourages it.

    R. Lau may seem "modern" because he ties his tie correctly, speaks enough of a vernacular to sound like a radio announcer, and knows his way in and out of the media, but he's as far to the right as anyone will ever be, and he's not going to change his outlooks or opinions. Like his father before him, he's the public face of extremism, not a moderating influence by any means.

  3. Dan Silagi · How do you propose to get this done? Would you make aliyah and vote for an anti-religious party? Otherwise, you might as well write that the sun should stay a little farther in the summertime because it's messing up your grass-lawn.

  4. his father was noncommittal regarding the controversy and refused to take sides.
    he has a reputation of not being a divider. Just because rav Sherman says something does not force this Rav to accept. Consultation does not mean capitulation.
    Let Rav Lau's inner values and actions determine how he will be judged, not a report from an otherwise Nogaya bedovor.

  5. Yori Yanover , I think Dan is -understandably- angry and that is words are overshooting his thoughts. I've no idea what the other Israelis will do, but I will ignore all the Chief Rabbinate's opinions and live as it the institution no longer existed, until it is thoroughly reformed.

  6. The time has arrived for an end to this politically motivated idea of a Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel from Jews that do not even accept the Jewish State. There is a need to stop this waste of money and human capital and allow the leagal right of all Jews to practice their Judaism as they wish.

  7. Why would I make aliyah to a theocracy? That has about as much of a chance of happening as of my great-grandparents (if they were alive) moving back to Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Belarus as they were in 1910 — not now. Besides, Israel wouldn't accept my wife in unless she converted, and the ultra-orthodox would void her conversion anyway. Let Israel become a secular democracy then we can start mentioning aliyah. (Several of my relatives DID in fact make aliyah — they're not happy with the turn of events.)

  8. Myriam Obadia – Fair enough. Until you require their services, at which point the plot thickens. I don't have to have a chief rabbi, but once so much of the Jewish life cycle has been assigned to the rabbinate, we're unable to ignore it.

  9. It is not "their" Judaism, or anyone's Judaism; it is Hashem's Judaism. HASHEM makes the rules, not people. B"H there are rabbis who still recognize that and are acting in the best interest of the neshamas of all Jews, despite pressures from "Jews" who don't even acknowledge that the Torah is the Word of Hashem and call those who do "extremists."

  10. I think a much better solution would be to kick out everyone, including Arabs, who don't believe in the Torah and let THEM start a new state. Israel didn't become a Jewish state in 1948; it's a Jewish state because HASHEM said so, not the U.N.

  11. I was born a Jew, I will die a Jew. I will answer to the creator not a political figurehead. Shame on Israel for allowing someone to be my religious spokesman. If the Haredi can't think for themselves how can they understand the Torah.

  12. As the chief rabbi of the State of Israel, you can't "refuse to take sides" in a major issue of religion

    R Lau senior was the chief enabler of the disruption of the conversion process; and under his regime, the number of Charedim avoiding the draft increased by an order of magnitude.

    His son, whose main qualification seems to be lineage, will not likely change much

  13. Haredi….insular , cult , corrupt.“First, all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Chaim Avior and Rabbi Chaim Drukman must be disqualified; second, conversions can be retroactively annulled for those who are not observant.”.
    Stop supporting them. If they had to work for a living they wouldn't have time to cause as much trouble. I DO NOT acknowledge their right to say who is a Jew……what hubris!

  14. It is what it is. The Ashkenazi Haredim, who would never dream of taking a case before the Rabbanut anyway, refuse to see what is obvious to any Torah Jew outside of the most sectarian circles – that THEY are a bigger threat to Torah than ever Reform in Israel and that THEY by their intransigence and POLITICAL power grabbing, are INVITING Reform and the destruction of Torah Judaism in Eretz.

    The validity of a conversion is dependent ONLY on the intentions of the person stepping in the Mikveh. Should the person later leave a life of Torah, he or she is STILL a Jew, and STILL required to make teshuva, just like any other Jew of the Derech.

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