Israeli Rabbinate’s Excuse for 'Inappropriate' Treatment of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Falls Apart Under Scrutiny, Religious Advocacy Group Charges

Requiring veteran rabbi to appear in person, defend his liberal positions on women and conversion 'makes a mockery of the religious authority,' says Riskin ally Rabbi Seth Farber, founder of ITIM.

While Israel's Chief Rabbinate has described their demand that Rabbi Shlomo Riskin appear before a council in order to keep his job as being purely “technical,” a religious advocacy group’s scrutiny of the council’s records has found that it is, in fact, almost unheard of.

On Monday, the Chief Rabbinate Council, headed by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, refused to extend Riskin’s tenure as chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat saying that in order for this to happen, Riskin must appear at the council’s next meeting to discuss the issue. The American-born Riskin has been Efrat’s chief rabbi since the settlement was founded.

The rabbinate asserts the reason Riskin is being required to appear is his age: all rabbis over 75 must appear before the council, they said. Riskin’s supporters, however, are convinced it is the rabbi’s liberal and controversial positions on conversion and the status of women are the reason that the veteran rabbi was not automatically granted permission to continue serving in his post.

But Rabbi Seth Farber of the ITIM organization says that an examination of the decisions of the Chief Rabbinate Council over five years - from November 30, 2008 - July 17 2013 revealed that during that time period 23 rabbis had their tenure extended in one form or another, and from the protocols “there is no evidence that any of the rabbis whose tenure was under discussion were required or invited to appear before the Council.” This included rabbis whose tenure in their posts was extended beyond the age of 75 such as Rabbi Yosef Ohana, chief rabbi of Kiryat Motzkin in 2010, and Tel Aviv’s chief rabbi Meir Lau in 2013.  

Nothing in the decision, Farber says, indicated that they attended the meetings or were required to appear.

Farber, who is close with Riskin, said that the Efrat rabbi had been stunned by the news that his tenure extension was not approved in the meeting, and that he had not been invited to attend it.

“He was completely blindsided by this. He had no idea that it was going to happen. He knew the extension was going to be decided on at this meeting, but it was just a formality and had good reason to believe it would be a formality.”

Riskin’s treatment at the hands of the rabbinate, Farber said, is “inappropriate and does not serve the interests of the people of Efrat, the rabbinate, or the Jewish people. It makes a mockery of the religious authority and appears to be a case of political jockeying rather than a substantive issue.”

He added: “ITIM calls upon the rabbinate to review its decision to invite Rabbi Riskin for a hearing and instead asks them to quickly affirm Rabbi Riskin’s tenure for the coming five years. Rabbi Riskin has been a major force in the creation of religious Zionist communities around Israel and has been an inspiration to thousands of Jews in Israel and around the world.”