Chief Sephardi Rabbi Assails Rabbi Riskin's Liberal Views on Gender Equality

'Every morning we say the blessing [God] ‘didn’t make me a woman,’ not like that one from Efrat... who says that women and men have equal rights,' says Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.

Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger

Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, harshly criticized Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the settlement of Efrat, during a weekly lecture on Saturday night that was documented on the website Kikar Shabbat. Riskin is facing possible dismissal for his liberal views.

“Every morning we say the blessing [God] ‘didn’t make me a woman,’ not like that one from Efrat, who makes all kind of innovations, who says we shouldn’t say that blessing, that women and men have equal rights this doesn’t hurt women. He doesn’t understand,” Yosef said.

He did not specify the “innovations” Riskin was making, though it is likely Yosef was referring Riskin’s appointment of Jennie Rosenfeld as Efrat’s “spiritual leader” last January, as well as Riskin’s long efforts for reform in the conversion process.

In response, Riskin stated “wisdom’s best defense is silence.”

Riskin’s term as chief rabbi of Efrat is almost up and technically it can only be lengthened by the Chief Rabbinate, which has set a precedent by summoning him for a meeting and threating to dismiss him.

Riskin has received support from the national religious community, including Rabbi Eliezer Melamed from the conservative wing of Religious Zionism, as well as the organization Tzohar, which threatened to cut ties with the Rabbinate in support of Riskin. Education Minister Naftali Bennett also expressed support for Riskin, declaring last week that he would stand by him personally if he is summoned for a hearing. “I will not accept silencing and dismissal of a public servant because of his ideas, and false claims about age,” said Bennett.

While ultra-Orthodox rabbis have expressed opposition to Riskin, the Chief Rabbinate says the issue is technical. Riskin is over 75, the age at which rabbis are required to submit a written request for reappointment and then appear before the council.

There are reports of efforts being made to end the conflict, as many believe the Rabbinate will not fare well against the respected Riskin. Rabbi Yosef’s comments would seem to indicate that the Rabbinate’s issue with Riskin is ideological, and far from a solution.