Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau

Haaretz Correspondent Judy Maltz noted that “Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi came under fire on Sunday for refusing to acknowledge in a newspaper interview that the massacre in Pittsburgh was carried out in a synagogue” (Israel’s Chief Rabbi Refuses to Call Pittsburgh Massacre Site a Synagogue Because It’s non-Orthodox).

She pointed out that Irael’s Haredi newspapers also refused to acknowledge that the Shabbat massacre “took place in a Jewish house of prayer because Tree of Life is a Conservative congregation, and they do not recognize the non-Orthodox movements.”


Maltz wrote that in an interview with the religious-Zionist Makor Rishon, Rabbi David Lau referred to the Tree of Life as “a place with a profound Jewish flavor (“Makom im sammeman Yehudi bolet”).” He really said it, and the paper made their headline. But to cherry-pick the quote from Rabbi Lau out of context – which a nasty editor did at Makor Rishon – is misleading, and re-ignites a religious war while we are burying our dead.

Here’s what the good chief rabbi said, this time in context:

Rabbi Lau: They were murdered because they were Jews. Does it matter in which synagogue or with which liturgy (“Nusach”) they pray?!

Makor Rishon: The Haredi media refused to refer to the Tree of Life as a Conservative synagogue, but instead as a “Jewish center” at best.

Rabbi Lau: Am I a spokesman for the media?! All I can say, several times over, is what I like or dislike, appreciate or don’t appreciate regarding things that have been published. I am aware of what they write, and sometimes know that what they write has no connection to reality.

I repeat: these are Jews and we must not take advantage of these moments unnecessarily. Do not turn the painful things into our subject. This is not the issue at all. I have a hard ideological dispute with them about Judaism, about its past and, based on that, the future of the Jewish people throughout the generations. So what?! So because of that they’re not Jewish?!”

Makor Rishon: So is it a synagogue?

Rabbi Lau: Jews were murdered in a place which for the murderer was considered a place with a prominent Jewish flavor (could also mean appearance – DI). A place with Torah scrolls, Jews with prayer shawls, there were siddurim there, there were people who had come there to feel God’s nearness. Which is why the murderer came there to murder rather than somewhere else. That’s why we feel pain and anger.”

Maltz cited a lineup of offended tweets from prominent officials and scholars, berating the chief rabbi for his failure to call a synagogue a synagogue – none of whom had bothered to read the actual source, which Maltz did not provide (although it’s not entirely clear whether their Hebrew is good enough to keep up with a newspaper story).

In short, the nasty editorial pick of Makor Rishon, which was quite brilliant had it remained in the circle of its readers, became yet another means for Ha’aretz and its anti-Orthodox warrior Judy Maltz to poke the bear with the shtreimel. This is so year 70…

So, to start, I went to the Google machine and looked for Judy Maltz articles about Judea and Samaria. I found this story: Israeli Ministry to Fund Evangelical Bible Program in West Bank Settlement; Why Adelson Is Pouring Millions Into an Israeli University in the West Bank; a story she datelined HAR BRACHA, West Bank; I could go on and on – clearly, Judy Maltz can only breathe in the Jordanian-associated West Bank flavor of the lands where our forefathers and fore-mothers roamed for millennia.

Which means that everyone is a religious zealot about something.

But there’s more to it. One of the arguments made often by good and earnest people is that the Nazis didn’t differentiate between Reform and Orthodox Jews at the lineup in Auschwitz. We were all the same to the beast. Better yet, the late seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe even stretched the Psalms’ assertion, “I have learned from all my teachers,” to mean that we must learn from the Nazis their dedication in searching for lost and hidden Jews.

We are one family, we really are all related, and, miraculously, when some who were born non-Jewish decide to convert, they instantaneously become related to us, they, too are family. So we do share this with the Nazis: we, too, don’t differentiate between Jews, and those of us who do are generally viewed as sick people – as in the case of a certain kashrut supervision service that rejected a winery’s employees because they were Ethiopian Jews.

All of which does not mean that the Israeli chief rabbi must recognize the validity of a Conservative synagogue on account of a tragic event that took place there.

We appointed him as our Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi through a democratic process (which was faulty and full of tricky politics, but what isn’t) – and we expect him to rule for ten years from within the religious foundations upon which he was raised. If he wishes to declare rhinoceroses kosher for Passover – he may, he’s the chief rabbi (it’s good to be the chief rabbi). We are free to appeal his rulings, but as long as he hadn’t been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, we cannot impeach him based on his opinions (although that rhinoceroses thing was too much).

Like any journalist, I enjoy a good gotcha (although I work hard not to do it myself), but this gotcha, Judy Maltz, is dripping with the blood of murder victims.

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