'This time, we fast before a catastrophe'

Leading rabbi calls for public day of fasting to heal overhaul discord

Tzohar founder Rabbi David Stav issues plea for prayers and refraining from food Wednesday ‘so our leaders find the way to continue this tremendous project — the State of Israel’

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Rabbi David Stav, cofounder and chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical organization. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Rabbi David Stav, cofounder and chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical organization. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Rabbi David Stav, founder of the influential Orthodox rabbinical group Tzohar, has called for Israelis to fast on Wednesday in a plea for unity and divine deliverance from rising tensions over the country’s judicial overhaul.

In a video published Tuesday on YouTube, Stav urged viewers to fast on Wednesday because “Israeli society, the State of Israel, is sliding toward a precipice,” Stav said. “We ask for prayer, for a cry, a fast so our leaders find the way to continue this tremendous project, which is the State of Israel. We will pray for the prosperity of our country and people so that, God-willing, we will know how to emerge from the great crisis.”

Wednesday coincides with the eve of the first day of the Jewish calendar month of Nisan, considered a minor holiday. Throughout Jewish history, rabbis have declared fast days in response to calamitous events from droughts to wars to social upheavals. In 2021, chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau urged a public fast over the coronavirus pandemic.

In the video, Stav avoided either positive or negative judgment of the overhaul promoted by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The plan, whose aims include transferring some of the judiciary’s powers to the legislative branch, has cut a deep gash in society between critics, who say it will hollow out the democratic system of checks and balances needed to govern the country, and backers, who say it will end overreach by an activist judiciary.

“This time, we fast before a catastrophe. Usually, we fast after one,” added Stav.

Tzohar is a large coalition of Orthodox rabbis widely viewed as moderate. The group aims to bridge gaps between religious and secular Israelis.

Stav’s appeal follows a plea by several moderate Orthodox groups, including Beit Hillel, Attentive Spiritual Leadership, and the Religious Kibbutz Movement, which called Monday for freezing the controversial overhaul until April 27, the day after Independence Day.

Right-wing demonstrators protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Most of the coalition parties pushing the judicial overhaul have a religious bent, including ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Yet following mass protests against the overhaul, multiple Orthodox public figures, including rabbis in institutions associated with the right, have in recent days recommended the overhaul’s supporters compromise on some of its components to avoid deepening the rift over it.

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