The largest umbrella organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis in America has offered its support to Rabbi David Stav, the reformist candidate in the upcoming Israeli chief rabbinate election, in the face of recent attacks. Stav, the head of the liberal rabbinic association Tzohar, has pledged to revamp the ultra-Orthodox dominated institution, making it more inclusive and responsive to Israel’s diverse Jewish citizens.
“We wish to convey our deep sense of appreciation for all that you have done for the betterment of the people of Israel, the land of Israel and the state of Israel,” reads the letter signed by the RCA leadership. “We look forward to working together with you for many years to expand and glorify the Torah, and to bring hearts closer to our Father in Heaven.” That said, adds Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, the letter “was not meant as an endorsement. The RCA has been very studied in not taking an official position on the election of chief rabbi. We will support the position itself, as opposed to a particular candidate. We don’t believe it’s our place.”
While Stav is tremendously popular among Israel’s secular Jewish population and has received the backing of four of the five parties in the country’s governing coalition, he has also made many enemies with his pointed critiques of the entrenched religious establishment’s corruption and bureaucracy.
The RCA’s letter comes as Stav has found himself under increasing attack–both verbal and physical–from ultra-Orthodox elements in Israel who seek to preserve the status quo. This week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the religious party Shas, denounced Stav as an “evil man” and “a danger to Judaism.” Subsequently, the aspiring Chief Rabbi was physically attacked at a wedding, as well as verbally assaulted as he departed.
Notably, the RCA explicitly condemned Yosef’s incendiary rhetoric in its letter of support to Stav–a rare move for an Orthodox organization, given Yosef’s widely respected scholarship. (Regular readers of Tablet will not be surprised to hear that Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman forcefully condemned the attacks on Stav.)
You can read the original Hebrew letter from the RCA here. We’ve translated it below:
In the name of all the members of the RCA, we wish to convey our encouragement and support to you, a rabbi in Israel about whom it is said, “See how pleasant his ways are, how righteous his deeds are, about him Scripture says, ‘And He [God] said to me, Israel, you are my servant, and because of you, I will be praised.'”
We trembled when we heard the terrible words which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef expressed regarding you this past Saturday night, and also of the events in Bnei Brak at the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Rabinowitz. Is this Torah and its students? “Woe to this one who learned Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his rebbe who taught him Torah. Such a person who learned Torah, see how crooked his deeds are, and see how ugly his ways are.”
We wish to convey our deep sense of appreciation for all that you have done for the betterment of the people of Israel, the land of Israel and the state of Israel. We look forward to working together with you for many years to expand and glorify the Torah, and to bring hearts closer to our Father in Heaven, in fulfillment of what is written, “You should love the Lord, your God, so that the name of heaven becomes beloved on your account.”
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
Rabbi Aryeh (Leonard) Matanky
Rabbi Mark Dratch
Executive Vice President
Related: A Religious Revolution in Israel [Tablet]