Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is a star in the firmament of Israeli high society. The rich and famous flock to his door, begging him to officiate at the weddings of their sons and daughters. If there's a glitzy affair anywhere, he's sure to be there. Same goes for political gatherings. He goes to all the important funerals, and pays condolence calls to mourners living in the most elegant homes. You could say he's Israel's most courted rabbi.
At one of these affairs a few months ago, I asked him: Is it true, these rumors about your seeking the presidency? He flatly denied it. Nonsense. Such a thing never entered his mind. This is the first he's ever heard of it. "I'm happy doing what I do," he said, etcetera, etcetera. I discovered later that as he was uttering all these innocent protestations and denials, his people were at work behind the scenes to get him elected president in 2007.
Like certain politicians in Israel, both past and present, there are rabbis who don't know when to call it quits. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Fuad) and Reuven Rivlin have been eyeing the presidency - and, it goes without saying, Shimon Peres, who at the age of 84, thinks he should be offered the job, although we're talking about a seven-year term that would end when he's 91.
Lau has enjoyed a lengthy rabbinic career, as Netanya's and Israel's chief rabbi. He served as Rabbinic Court president several times and won acclaim for his work in this capacity. He is an Israel Prize laureate. He starred on television and was re-elected chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and president of the Tel Aviv Religious Court.
Lau is a first-rate orator with a fine pronunciation of Hebrew, without a trace of Yiddish. The book he wrote about his life as a Holocaust survivor, "Do Not Raise Your Hand Against the Boy," where he describes how his brother Naftali carried him on his back, and how they escaped from Buchenwald concentration camp, was a best-seller. At some point, he had his own television show.
During his election campaign for chief rabbi of Israel, all kinds of stories hit the airwaves - about his fondness for hobnobbing with rich people, his love of money, his soft spot for pretty women and so on. Lau never sued the newspapers for publishing insinuations about his human weaknesses.
Over time Rabbi Lau has become more careful. He has even stopped shaking women's hands. Very quietly, behind the scenes, he has begun to ready himself for the presidential race. Here and there he has bragged about officiating at the weddings of half the Likud. His people have begun to spread a rumor that Olmert is seeking his election. The Haaretz report that Olmert appointed a team to promote Lau's candidacy was quickly denied, and for good reason. Just because Olmert doesn't want Peres for president doesn't mean he wants Lau, especially now when his great convergence plan is about to take off.
In his column in Yedioth Ahronoth last week, Amos Carmel called the possibility of Lau being appointed president "an insult to half the country." And he's right. In a state where women outnumber men, a secular majority exists and an extremist rabbinic establishment incites its flock to oppose withdrawal forcibly, a rabbi for president of Israel is a dangerous proposition - politically, because as president he is liable to support opponents of withdrawal from the Land of Israel; and socially, because he is liable to turn his nose up at a million Russian immigrants and other pork and shrimp-eating Israelis, and leave the hands of Israel's women, waiting to congratulate their president, dangling in the air.
A religious cleric is a religious cleric, and a politician is a politician. The twain should never meet. Someone who has been chief rabbi several times, Rabbinic Court chief several times and chief marriage officiator of the Israeli upper crust, with a trail of tips and gifts strewn behind him, should stick to his luminous spiritual career.
Rabbi Lau for president of Israel? It shouldn't be allowed.
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