A prominent religious-Zionist rabbi known for his ultraconservative views on gender defended his opposition to former justice minister Ayelet Shaked being named leader of the Union of Right Wing Parties by saying that politics “is no place for a woman.”
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the former chief rabbi of the Beit El settlement and head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva, was one of dozens of rabbis who came out against the possibility of Shaked, who is secular, leading the flagship religious right-wing party after the September elections.
The Walla news outlet on Wednesday published a statement signed by the rabbis in which they expressed support for current URWP leader Rafi Peretz, and declared that the party must never be led by a non-religious candidate.
The statement did not explicitly mention Shaked, but the rabbis indicated that naming her URWP leader would draw substantial opposition from inside the party’s ranks.
On Thursday, Aviner attempted to explain the rabbis’ insistence on a religious candidate leading the party.
“We think that a religious party is needed because this country is not just about its economy or security, it’s also about faith,” he said in an interview on the Kan public broadcaster. “That’s why we need to have people who dedicate their entire lives to the Torah, who can lead these struggles for the benefit of the nation.”
Asked if he supported Shaked at the helm of the URWP, Aviner said no, even if going with another candidate would cost the party votes in September.
He said that while Shaked is “really wonderful,” he did not think it was appropriate for her to lead the party.
“Every person has their own place,” he said. “It’s not right, the complex world of politics is no place for the female role.”
Shaked has declared her intention to run in the upcoming September elections, but has not yet announced the vehicle for her candidacy. Polls indicate that the former justice minister — who left the Jewish Home party last December to form the New Right party along with Naftali Bennett — is one of the most popular politicians in her camp.
She is widely reported to be deciding between running as the head of the New Right with Bennett as her deputy or as a No. 1 or No. 2 in the UWRP.
Aviner’s comments about Shaked drew sharp criticism from female politicians.
Shuli Moalem-Refael, a former MK for Jewish Home, one of the constituent parties of the UWRP, said she was “flabbergasted.”
“The presence of women, including religious women, in the public sphere is self-evident,” she added in a tweet.
Blue and White MK Orna Barbivai, who was the first female head of an IDF directorate, said Aviner’s comments “will give a motivational push for women on why they should be in politics.”
“Thank you to Rabbi Aviner for reminding me why I got into politics,” Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich told the Kan broadcaster.
Other opposition lawmakers weighed in, including Blue and White no. 2 Yair Lapid, who slammed Aviner’s comments on Twitter, saying, “Politics also isn’t a place for chauvinists and religious fanatics.”
Oded Forer, an MK for the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, tweeted, “This is the same rabbi who thinks reflexology is witchcraft. [He] represents the phenomenon of extremism that is leading Israel down a dark path toward a halachic state, one that disparages women, abolishes professionalism and launches witch hunts.”
Aviner, a prominent writer and commentator on current events, has previously drawn criticism for espousing radical views he says are rooted in religious law.
He has claimed Jewish law forbids Jews from renting apartments in Israel to Arabs — a claim denounced by many other religious-Zionist rabbis — and has advocated so-called “conversion therapy” for gays along with very stringent views on women’s modesty.
In April, he controversially suggested the fire that gutted the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris could have been divine retribution for the mass burning of Talmud volumes by French Catholic priests in the city eight centuries earlier.