In a last-minute scramble, President Reuven Rivlin has found an Orthodox rabbi willing to participate in a special learning event he is hosting that will include Conservative and Reform rabbis.
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Benny Lau, a progressive-minded Orthodox rabbi, notified the president’s office on Tuesday that he would be willing to represent his movement at the event, scheduled to take place on Thursday, which is meant to be dedicated to Jewish unity.
Rabbi Uri Sherki, who had been the president’s original choice, announced on Monday that he would not attend, after he had already accepted the invitation. He told Haaretz he was declining because of “technical reasons.”
A day earlier, Sherki was quoted on an Orthodox website referring to Reform Jews as “heretics.” He told Haaretz he had come under pressure from Orthodox circles to absent himself from the event, which would include a female rabbi.
Lau, the rabbi of Congregation Ramban in Jerusalem, is the cousin of David Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.
Rivlin organized the event to help reduce tensions with the non-Orthodox movements, whose leaders were offended by his decision last month to refuse to allow a Conservative rabbi to officiate at a bar mitzvah ceremony for disabled children that was to have taken place at his residence. The children were all graduates of a special program operated around the country by the Conservative movement.
The learning event, scheduled to coincide with the traditional nine days of mourning that precede the fast of Tisha B’Av, is being organized in conjunction with the Jewish People Policy Institute, an independent think tank based in Jerusalem.