Liberal Orthodox Leader Calls on U.S. Jews to Boycott Chief Rabbis Over Riskin Affair

Rabbi David Stav, head of Tzohar organization, says Rabbinate seeks to oust popular N.Y.-born rabbi from position in Efrat because of views on conversion, women's issues.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Tzohar founder Rabbi David Stav.
Tzohar founder Rabbi David Stav.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

Rabbi David Stav, head of the Tzohar organization of liberal Orthodox rabbis, called on American Jews Tuesday to boycott Israel's chief rabbis if the Rabbinate carries out its threat to oust native New Yorker Rabbi Shlomo Riskin as chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement Efrat.

“Rabbi Riskin is one of the most admired rabbis in the U.S.” explained Stav, who holds a senior post at Riskin's Ohr Torah Stone educational system. Urging U.S. Jewish communities to stop inviting chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef to visit if the threat against Riskin isn't lifted, he said, “Rabbi Riskin is the rabbi of hundreds of thousands of Jews belonging to the modern Orthodox world. He came to Israel with an entire community. Insulting him is equivalent to insulting all modern Orthodox communities in the United States."

Riskin's liberal attitudes on conversion and women's issues have put him conflict with the Orthodox establishment before, and the rabbis of Tzohar are convinced this is behind the Rabbinate's move against him.

According to the Chief Rabbinate, however, the problem is strictly technical: While younger rabbis’ appointments are usually renewed automatically, Riskin, being over 75, is required to submit a written request for reappointment as Efrat's chief rabbi, and then appear before his local council. Riskin neither submitted a written request nor attended Monday's council meeting, and therefore, his appointment couldn’t be renewed, the Rabbinate said.

Yet on Monday, the local government of Efrat unanimously affirmed that it would like Riskin to continue as its rabbi. Should the Chief Rabbinate disagree, Riskin said, he would disregard its decision.

“I will remain the rabbi of Efrat for as long as the people of Efrat want me to be their rabbi,” he told JTA. “I don’t believe it’s up to the Chief Rabbinate.”

The text of the Efrat Local Council’s decision, sent to Riskin and obtained by JTA, says: “The Council calls on the Chief Rabbinical Council to respect the will of the residents of Efrat, and to extend the appointment of Rabbi Riskin for as long a period as possible.” The decision praises Riskin’s “value-driven and courageous Jewish legal positions.”

Riskin, the founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City and a co-founder of the community of Efrat, expected an automatic reappointment to the Efrat chief rabbi post. He believes the rabbinate has delayed the reappointment mainly because he supports a government decision from last November that devolved authority over Jewish conversion from the Chief Rabbinate to Israel’s city rabbis. The rabbinate has come out publicly against the decision.

"This attempt [on Riskin] is not a coincidence," Stav said, adding, "A few months ago there was another attempt by the Chief Rabbinate to delegitimize rabbis from the same community.”

His call for a boycott of the chief rabbis came on top of another out-of-the-ordinary response to the Riskin affair. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a senior Tzohar rabbi who heads the army-affiliated hesder yeshiva Orot Shaul in Ra’anana, tweeted on his Twitter account on Sunday: “If the Chief Rabbinate abuses its authority (in the Riskin affair and in other matters) I will join those who are acting to abolish this institution entirely, contrary to my actions up to now.”

But Riskin’s liberal attitudes on both conversion and women’s issues have led to conflicts with the Chief Rabbinate before, and according to sources present at the meeting – which isn’t open to the press – some of those conflicts arose Monday.

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