The election of the two chief rabbis on Wednesday dominates front pages Thursday morning, with coverage both playing up the dynastic element of the victors (“Princes’ victory” — Yedioth Ahronoth), and the wider political/religious implications of the results (“Victory of the ultra-Orthodox over the National Religious” — Haaretz).
Indeed, though rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef were considered the “safe” choices, both of them sons of former chief rabbis and members of rabbinic dynasties, newspaper people found plenty to write about them, the race, and what it all means.
“In the race for the chief rabbi there are no winners, only losers,” Yoaz Hendel writes in Yedioth. “What was will be. … But unlike the royal family in Britain now celebrating the birth of a new offspring, the heads of Israel’s religious establishment aren’t just a symbol, they are also decision makers. The Chief Rabbinate has a monopoly of marriage and kashrut. They are responsible for the shmita fallow year on agriculture, they are the face of good Judaism, and sometimes too close to bad. The national religious put their hope in Rabbi [David] Stav. From an internal political view, they failed. The Haredi parties have proven that when it comes to respect of the Torah, respect of Torah scholars, and of course respect of a large kashrut system that brings in reams of money, they are not suckers.”
Maariv’s Shalom Yerushalmi writes that the victories, particularly Yosef’s, represent revenge by the Shas party for their political defeat at the hands of the national-religious (read Jewish Home) during elections and coalition talks last spring.
“[Shas spiritual leader] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef led, by himself, at age 93, a campaign with tremendous importance. On a historic level, we are talking here about a bloody struggle between Haredim, principally Sephardic, and between the national religious.… From the view of Ovadia and other Shas spiritual leaders, Naftali Bennet’s Jewish Home is not Jewish at all, and control of the Chief Rabbinate is not different from Amalek controlling the main centers of halachic power. Yesterday, Ovadia Yosef vanquished the two national religious candidates in favor of the two new Haredi chief rabbis, David Lau and his son, Yitzhak Yosef.”
The fact that two sons of former chief rabbis won the position shows that nepotism is the real victor, Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, which perfectly fits the grotesque nature of the institution.
“There is no hope for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel,” he writes. “Not as long as it is joined at the hip to politics, and not as long as Israelis are unwilling to liberate their Jewish heritage from the rabbis.… With Yosef and Lau, the Chief Rabbinate will remain nepotistic, superfluous, gray, corrupt and irrelevant to Israeli society, free to bully the people who need its services. Until the people rise up and demand that it be abolished, this is the rabbinate we deserve.”
In that vein, Yisrael Hayom’s Yehuda Shlezinger writes that it will be up to the new chief rabbis to reform and rehab the image of the institution, which is just as Pfeffer described it. And seeing as they are young guns from outside the system hungry to shake things up this will clearly be their first priority. Except not. Yet Shlezinger says they are bigger mavericks than anyone is giving them credit for.
“Their task is a tough one. In the coming days, there will be talk of nepotism, and of family juntas that are continuing to control the rabbinate with two sons of two former chief rabbis, and all of their decisions will be examined against the prism of their Haredi designation against the national religious. For these two it should not be too hard. They are both thought of as Torah scholars in their own rights, and Lau insisted through every stage of the campaign that he is the rabbi of a ‘knitted kipa’ city, and even served in the army. Yosef had rulings more lenient than his father, and those around him say that his rulings helped lead to leniencies from his father’s position on agunot and soldier conversions.”
It’s easy to misspell things when you write in another language (just check any English menu in Israel) but if you’re forging a passport from your greatest enemy to hang out in Canada, you may want to use a spell checker, or at least double check. Yedioth reports, though, that one Iranian family did not heed said advice and tried to enter the not so great Satan with fake Israeli passports. As the paper shows, the “Solomons” family’s passports are riddled with errors, such as replacing a “nun sofit” for a “vav,” (creating the name “Snlnmns”), misspelling Jerusalem, and mixing up Rehovot for the United States (a common mistake, I know, but still.) The paper reports that the family is being held for investigation in Vancouver and is likely seeking political asylum.
Haaretz’s Ari Shavit uses a strange motorcycle analogy to explain that peace should be reached by moving slowly and steadily by bicycle and not by roaring ahead on a Harley, as he claims Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni all tried to do, to disastrous effect. “If Kerry does not internalize these fundamental insights and insists on a muscular motorcycle, he’ll end up like the bikers before him. But if he finds the right mountain bike, he might surprise us all with peace of another kind: one that is modest, slow, well-grounded and environmentally sound.”