Thursday, June 04, 2015

To: The Chief Rabbis of Israel – Re: Rabbi Riskin

By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean, Tzomet Institute  
"And Yehoshua declared... My Master, Moshe, put them in prison! And Moshe said to him... If only all of G-d's nation would be prophets" [Bamidbar 11:28-29].
From media reports: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat, is being invited to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate in order to determine whether his term of office should be extended beyond his current age of 75, as is required by the relevant regulations. In the background there is a desire/request by several members of the Council to have him leave his position (that is: to fire him) because of his viewpoint and his position about issues of religion, society, and the state. Examples are the subjects of conversion, the status of women, and his participation in conferences with Christians, among other things.
Retiring at the Age of Eighty
Here are some basic facts about this matter, before we get into my opinion:
"According to a formal ordinance (5735-1974), the term of a municipal Chief Rabbi ends when he reaches the age of 75. However, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate is allowed to extend his term until the age of 80. In 2007 a new ruling was instituted (which is valid only for appointments from that date on) that a municipal Chief Rabbi will only serve until the age of 70, and that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate can extend this twice for five more years, until the age of 80. In practice, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate automatically extends the term of the rabbis, such that rabbis who were appointed after 2007 serve until the age of 70, rabbis who were appointed between the years 1974-2007 serve until the age of 80, and rabbis who were appointed before 1974 serve for the rest of their lives." [From: Eitan Yarden and Ariel Finkelstein, "The Appointment of Municipal Chief Rabbis in Israel," The Institute for Strategic Zionism, Kislev 5774]. In case this is not clear to any of my readers, Rabbi Riskin was appointed many years before 2007.
I can also add something from my own personal knowledge. There are quite a few municipal Chief Rabbis who continue to serve even though they are more than 80 years old. Among them are some who have physical limitations. I can also add a bit of "non-knowledge" that I know from my own experience: There is no known case of an active rabbi whose term was not extended, and as far as I know no rabbi was ever asked to appear before the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to justify his request for an extension (unless the rabbi chose to come on his own initiative). There can be no doubt, and this is a clear "on-the-table" factor, that this entire issue is a result of a war of faith and opinions, and a case of abusing administrative power to use as a "weapon" in this battle.
The Measure of a Rabbi
It is no secret that there are differences of opinion among the rabbis of Yisrael in matters related to worldview, halacha, education, behavior, and whatever else you want to add (the same is true for the heads of yeshivot, Chassidic rebbes, and those who disseminate Torah, faith, and morality to the general public). There are quite often disputes in matters of halacha (including such subjects as kashrut, Shabbat, family purity, and almost anything else you can think of). If the Chief Rabbinate will include considerations of these matters in judging whether to extend the term of a rabbi, it will lead to nothing less than the demise of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Whoever was acceptable before reaching the age of his "extended service" is acceptable for the additional five years too!
In fact, from my personal acquaintance of the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, the President of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi David Lau, and the President of the Rabbinical Courts, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, as men who are moderate and reasonable,I cannot even imagine that they would lead a discussion (and certainly not make a decision not to extend the term) based on the beliefs, the outlook, and the halachic decisions of a rabbi who enters their offices because it is necessary to extend his term of office. The Chief Rabbis, who have demonstrated their wisdom, will never get caught up in such a pitfall, no matter how many unwise rabbis and functionaries are busy breathing down their necks. And if they do get into this fray, it will serve as an example of drawing the swords in a "religious war" along the lines of Chareidim versus liberals, with all the possible levels in between.
It is true that one of the Chief Rabbis declared, and rightfully so, that "We will not serve as a rubber stamp" for decisions brought to them. That is, if they were given a mandate to extend a term of office beyond the normal limit, such approval should not be automatic. This is a worthy and commendable statement, but its ethical implementation depends on three conditions: (1) Complete equality, for everybody involved! (2) Establishing criteria and standard procedures for the parameters that will be checked. (3) To begin applying the new standards from the next "case," after taking care of the matter of Rabbi Riskin. I have no doubt that Rabbi Riskin will be happy for the merit that has come his way to be instrumental in formulating new objective criteria. In addition to medical approval (which is required for other jobs too) it is also worthwhile to check whether a rabbi is "liked by his community."(Mordechai was "Approved by a large number of his brothers" [Esther 10:3]. How can this be checked?) There should also be a summary of his activities in spreading Torah, educational institutions, charitable endeavors, and religious services. I fear that if the criterion for a passing grade in these matters will be based on the record of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, very few people indeed will be able to compete with him and follow in his place...
Eldad and Meidad who prophesied "in the camp," as is quoted at the beginning of this article, demonstrated their independent thinking and challenged Moshe's leadership. But he showed exemplary restraint and blessed them, that all the others should follow in their footsteps. The one word "in the camp" appears three times in this passage and "the camp" one more time. My heart tells me that this is a strong hint that these two men were deeply involved and "liked by the community..."

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