Chief Rabbi Says Rabbi Riskin Will Not Be Forced Into Retirement

Issue of continued tenure of Efrat rabbi, attacked for progressive views, has been 'blown out of proportion,' Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Lau says in turnabout from earlier statements.

Morten Berthelsen

There is no plan to force Efrat’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin into retirement despite the harsh comments that have been made about him in recent weeks and demands not to extend his tenure, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said Wednesday.

“I’m sorry that the issue of Rabbi Riskin’s continued tenure has gotten blown out of proportion,” Lau told participants in a Torah class in Modi’in on Wednesday.

Riskin, who holds his rabbinic post since 1983, has turned 75 and needs the approval of the Chief Rabbinate Council, which Lau heads, to continue in the position for another five years. At the most recent council meeting two weeks ago there were demands not to continue his employment because of his progressive views on conversion, the status of women, and relations with non-Jews.

During that council session there was harsh criticism of Riskin from some rabbis, among them Holon Chief Rabbi Avraham Yosef, and it was decided to summon Riskin to a hearing at its next meeting at the end of this month. Lau’s remarks on Wednesday represent a turnabout, since only last week he had justified summoning Riskin, saying “The rabbinate will not be a rubber stamp” with regard to extending his term.

Rabbis who reach the age of 75 usually have their tenure extended automatically, with no demand that they appear before the Chief Rabbinate Council. Subsequent to Riskin being summoned, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, a brother of Holon’s chief rabbi, criticized Riskin during a Torah class he gave, saying, “There’s someone from Efrat making all kinds of innovations, and ‘he who does new things, makes wars.’”

But given the assessment that there is no real legal basis for the rabbinate to dismiss Riskin, Lau apparently has decided to calm things down. At the Modi’in yeshiva, Lau said that dismissing Riskin had never been the rabbinate’s intention. He denounced “various comments that are not at all the opinion of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel” regarding Rabbi Riskin, and added, “I’m sorry that the issue of Rabbi Riskin’s continued tenure has gotten blown out of proportion.”

The remarks were publicized by the yeshiva and were confirmed by Lau’s office.