Former Israel Chief Rabbi Reproaches 'Greedy' Jews for Breaking the Sabbath

'The People of the Book have become the People of Commerce,' Tel Aviv's retiring Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau tells Israeli newspaper

Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, February 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau told an Israeli newspaper over the weekend that Jews have become “greedy” and that “Americanization” is driving secular Israelis away from religion.

In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Lau slammed shops that open on the Sabbath, and was also aggrieved by Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade.

Lau, who served as Ashkenazi chief rabbi from 1993 to 2003, is officially retiring as Tel Aviv’s rabbi this month, but he leaves unhappy with both the state of the city and country.

“At the end of the day, what lies behind the opening of supermarkets on Shabbat? Greed. A few supermarket owners who are chasing money,” Lau told the daily. “The People of the Book have become the People of Commerce, who are running after every penny their entire life.

“Will anything happen if you let go of the money for just one day a week, be with your family, open a book?” he inquired.

Lau blamed the malaise on what he called a “decades-long educational failure, which stops people from understanding the essence and value of Shabbat and what they are missing out on.”

He also saw the failure as indicative of a wider problem in Israel society, leaving him to question what is left of the Jewish state “People are married by an entertainer, they are buried in a kibbutz which is commercializing the whole thing, they open stores on Shabbat, and it’s all OK. So what is left of the Jew here?” he asked.

Lau reserved most scorn for Tel Aviv’s annual Gay Pride Parade. “It doesn’t belong in the city,” he said, adding, “I just don’t know if such a parade solves the problem of people with a certain inclination. What are they solving by raising their problem so high? I can’t see and can’t understand how the publicity helps solve the problem. If there’s a person who has a personal problem, does he help solve it by dancing on a truck on the city’s streets in the middle of the day?”

Lau continued: “This parade doesn’t solve these people’s problem, the issue of how to have children, how to start a family.”

He also rejected interviewer Amira Lam’s assertion that pressure on secular Jews to be more observant was driving them away from religion. “What drives them away is the Americanization, in many areas,” Lau responded. “We are importers of a foreign culture.”

Lau also linked disgraced rabbis such as Yoshiyahu Pinto and Yona Metzger, who have been jailed for corruption, with the nation’s decline. “What happened to the religious public happened to the entire Israeli society,” he said. “The religious public doesn’t live on a different planet. They live in this society, and everything has changed. The corruption outside has somewhat penetrated the religious leadership as well.”