Cheapening the faith

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 lifeit 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.

On rabbis and racism

By Julian Resnick
Julian Resnick has lived in Israel since 1976. He made Aliyah from South Africa and has worked in numerous positions for the Reform Movement, starting with NFTY in Israel 30 years ago, Netzer Olami, and two shlichuyot for the MRJ in London.  He is currently a Shaliach for Habonim Dror in NYC, and you can catch him at the Connections Conference in San Francisco in February. 
I have always loved being Jewish. At times in my life I kept this great love of mine fairly quiet and out of sight as I was part of a social and political grouping in which a fierce ethnicity was not really a dominant part of our culture. It was a time where our culture was defined by our participation in a struggle which transcended what were then perceived as narrow boundaries.

In recent years, probably due to the many, many years I have lived in Israel, or should this read, in spite of the many, many years I have lived in Israel (?), as well as the time I spent working for the Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK and the powerful experiences of Jewish travel in my Jewish Journeys world, my every day has been a Jewish experience.

Last night lighting candles in my temporary home on the Upper East Side, just one road away from the 92nd St Y and an hour after seeing Black Swan, I felt so at peace and at home with my Jewish Identity. Just think of this: working as a Shaliach for Habonim Dror, the Socialist Zionist youth movement I grew up in, enjoying my Friday night services at Bnei Yeshurun (BJ) on the Upper West Side, lighting candles with Orly who is loving her Yiddish Studies classes at the Y and with Maya my 22 year old IDF officer thinking of spending her next year after finishing the army doing Social Justice work with Tzedek B’Tevel (Justice in the world) in Nepal. These are all part of my Jewish Identity.

And this is why I am so angry with the Psak Halacha (Rabbinical Ruling) a group of Israeli Rabbis officially employed by the Ministry of the Interior as Municipal Rabbis have just published in Israel calling on Jews not to rent to Arabs in the cities they work in. They are destroying this Jewish life and world I so enjoy. If we fall again as a culture and a people, it will be because of these spreaders of hatred, of senseless hatred.

I can live with Eli Yishai’s pathetic manipulations as he worms his way out of responsibility for the Carmel fire. I hate to say this, but the fire was not an existential threat to Israel as painful as it was. This is. We have to say it as it is. It is disgusting. It cannot be excused. If we, Israeli taxpayers, do not demand that people who spew out such filth in the name of Judaism are dismissed from office, then we must accept the consequences.  And, they could be many, but I will focus on one only: more and more great young Israelis, like my daughter the IDF officer, my medical student son, my young daughter who fought to be accepted by the IDF so she could serve in spite of a medical condition and who is now working with the most difficult of populations as an educator so she can make a difference, will all walk away from their Jewish identity and the culture which I so love.

I want to name and shame these rabbis as they should be known to all. Here are the names I know: Rabbi Ya’akov Edelstein of Ramat Hasharon, Rabbi Yosef Sheinin of Ashdod, Rabbi Moshe Havlin of Kiryat Gat, Rabbi David Wolpe of Rishon LeZion, Rabbi Avraham Margalit of Carmiel, Rabbi Tzion Sudery of Gedera, Rabbi Shmuel David of Afula, Rabbi Simcha Hacohen of Rechovot, Rabbi Azaria Basis of Rosh Ha’ayin, Rabbi Yitzchak Yakobowitz of Herzliah, Rabbi Yeshaya Meitels of Naharia, Rabbi David Tzedakah of Pardes Hana, Rabbi Avraham Ochion of Ofakim.

When I think of what we suffered at the hands of those who could not bear to live in the same neighbourhoods as we did, my revulsion is even greater and I thank the Rabbis of the Tzohar organization who have offered a different Halachic ruling for trying to prevent this rabble of rabbis from destroying what I care for so deeply.