Written by Katie
As I start the process of applying to Rabbinical school next year, I am continually inspired by the rabbis I meet. I always knew they were leaders of various communities but until the past few years I never knew them on such a personal level. Not only are they smart and spiritual but they are doing acts of social justice in the world. My friends in Rabbinical school are involved with Occupy Wall Street, Encounter, soup kitchens, and so much more. My rabbi at home is incredibly knowledgeable, a mensch, makes sure that our synagogue has a 24 hours 365 day a year homeless shelter, and is involved in lots of interfaith work. That is the kind of rabbi I am aspiring to become.
That is why when I first started learning about the issues of racist incitement by rabbis in Israel I was shocked. These rabbis have said some of the following things:
- “It is reasonable to harm a child if it is obvious that they will grow up to harm us, and, in such a situation, they will be deliberately harmed (and not merely damaged in an attack aimed at the adults)” The King’s Torah by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur
- Again and again it emerges that ostensibly cheap Arab labor actually wreaks the heaviest of prices on us, in blood. The murderous tractors driven by Arabs from East Jerusalem are merely the tip of the iceberg of a national problem that has long since become an existential danger that threatens the well-being of the nation dwelling in Zion, as sources of livelihood are usurped and Jews are displaced at every turn. Through the creeping seizure of Jewish neighborhoods, through insolence and audacity, through increasing verbal and physical violence, through the systematic and deliberate offense to the honor of Jewish women, and up to the point of intermarriage with Jewish women who fall into their net…The time has come to tell the truth: Providing a livelihood for our enemies leads to grave consequences…” A response to blood spilled poster
- “The letting of real estate to a non-Jew… is an act of treason against the Torah and the Holy People… A Jew who transfers possession of land to a Gentile, from the date of this ruling, shall not be able to serve as a public emissary [in the synagogue], is not to be included in the prayer quorum, and is certainly not to be called up to read from the Torah.” The New Sanhedrin Group Halachic ruling
This is not what someone who is well versed in Torah should stand for. This is not what rabbis were meant to be. Rabbis should be preaching tolerance and love of the stranger. After all G-d tells us to love the stranger as ourselves 36 times in the Torah because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. The Bible is horrified by child sacrifice of other religions of antiquity because the sanctity of life is so important. In the Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 37a it says “whoever preserves a single life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.” I could go on and on.
That is why I was glad to join IRAC in its fight against racism. They have been monitoring these rabbis for years and compiling information on them. IRAC has brought 48 complaints to the courts and in only 18 was a criminal investigation opened. In only 5 of these cases was the rabbi indited for a criminal offense and in only ONE case was the rabbi convicted of the crime. His punishment was to serve community service hours in his own Yeshiva. This is unacceptable that the state seems to be saying rabbis are above the law.
Two weeks ago, I got to go to a Supreme Court where it was obvious that the court room was designed with the Torah in mind. Anat Hoffman, our executive director, pointed out all its interesting features to me. There are no corners in the court rooms because justice is round since it is a combination of mercy and judgement. There is a skylight where natural light pours into the room. This is based on a quote from Isaiah 45:8 where he states “Open up, O heavens, and pour down your righteousness.” The walls are made of latticework symbolizes the interconnectedness of all the people of Israel.
The case I was going to see was about Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu who co-wrote The King’s Torah. The state has been saying for years that it will investigate his racist incitement and has done nothing. I loved watching this case. Our lawyers do not back down for anything and are so justified in their path that it’s hard for others to thwart them. The Supreme court sided in our favor and said the state has 60 days to inform High Court whether or not to indict Eliyahu for incitement to racism. The court was no longer letting the state turn a blind eye to his activities and was forcing them into action. The justices just like the court room they were sitting in were being inspired by the Torah.
I’ve always had rabbis as role models of who I want to become. Now, I also have examples of the kind of rabbi I hope I will never be.