There are no special skills required for the position of president of the state, but it is appropriate for the head of state to express in his character and his record the values to which the state aspires and not those according to which it is being run in this insane time. One might have thought it sufficient for two presidents - Ezer Weizman and Moshe Katsav - to have ended their tenures in shame to convince Rabbi Israel Meir Lau to avoid proposing himself as a candidate for the position. But last week Maariv reported that Rabbi Lau has decided to run despite the fact that he, like the Knesset that will elect the president, is aware of the complaints of sexual harassment and the allegations of misconduct that have accompanied his public career for years.
Rabbi Lau is a charismatic personality who charms some and is repellent to others, and he is connected to Israel's social elite, in part by officiating at their weddings. For years Rabbi Lau illegally received payments for performing marriages while he was on the public payroll, both as chief rabbi and as rabbinical courts president. Despite having declared his renunciation of this practice a decade ago, he has continued this unacceptable behavior even in his present position as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Lau's corrupt behavior in financial matters has never undermined the respect he enjoys among many, which is the basis for his presidential bid. The fact that three women have testified that he harassed them sexually did not prevent his appointment as chief rabbi of Israel. If the Knesset ignores these facts this time as well, it will signal that the cynicism of its members is unlimited and irredeemable.
Another question relevant to Lau's candidacy is whether it is appropriate to choose an Orthodox rabbi as president of a secular state. Rabbi Lau is not merely a religious man who lives by his faith; rather, he is part of the rabbinical establishment, with all its flaws. Several months ago Haaretz Magazine reported that Rabbi Lau strongly opposes genetic testing during pregnancy since he believes a pregnancy should not be ended because of a genetic abnormality in the fetus. This outlook contradicts medical progress and is particularly troubling when it is advocated by the president of the state. A president could have a negative influence on the decisions of pregnant women, and could have a similar impact on organ donations and on autopsies.
If it was difficult to accept the alienation of Moshe Katsav from Reform rabbis, it would be even more difficult to accept the fact that Rabbi Lau would not agree to shake the hands of women, including heads of state, in a position that is purely ceremonial.
The president will be elected by secret ballot in a few weeks, but the secrecy should not facilitate the selection of an unworthy candidate. If the country's MKs once again choose a president whose shortcomings are known to them, it could spell the end of the institution of the presidency. Rabbi Lau should refrain from presenting himself as a candidate, in order to avoid the ignominy. Each of the other candidates is better and more worthy than he.
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