Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said Wednesday that the Chief Rabbinate has no intention of firing Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin when he comes in for a hearing at the end of June.
Rabbi Riskin reached the mandatory retirement age for municipal rabbis when he turned 75 last month. The Chief Rabbinate’s central committee has the right to, and typically does, formally extend municipal rabbis’ terms by an extra five years. The committee refused to vote in favor of the extension and a hearing was scheduled on Riskin’s continued tenure for June 29.
The rabbinate appeared set to terminate Riskin’s tenure in May but agreed to allow him to come before the panel for a hearing before a decision is made in his case.
However Lau said Wednesday that termination was not on the table at all.
“There has never been any intention to push out Rabbi Riskin,” said the chief rabbi. “At the time the subject came up, there were statements that do not reflect the opinion of the Chief Rabbinate.”
“It saddens me that the issue of Rabbi Riskin’s continued service has been blown out of proportion.”
The US-born Riskin is known for his relatively liberal opinions on conversion to Judaism, among other social issues, and is a prominent figure in the Modern Orthodox Jewish world.
News that he may face dismissal cause an outcry from public figures in the rabbinic and political spheres against what is seen as an effort to end Riskin’s tenure for opinions on socioreligious issues that run counter to the policies of the rabbinic body.
“Above any effort to depose Rabbi Riskin flies a clear red flag of revenge directed against his positions and halachic decisions,” the liberal Orthodox Tzohar group said in a statement. “Instead of exalting his accomplishments, figures in the rabbinate are choosing to force the rabbi into early retirement because of their political considerations.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett came to Riskin’s defense after it became clear that the Rabbinate may not extend his term, saying he “will not accept an attempt to stifle voices and pressure a civil servant in Israel because of his views under the false pretense of age.
“Rabbi Riskin established a great and important city in Israel and has inalienable rights; he should not become the target of political reprisals,” Bennett said. “It is permissible to have different opinions, but it is impermissible to stymie voices. Do we want civil servants, and specifically spiritual leaders, to be afraid to express their views because they will be suppressed?”