After Controversy, Tenure of Liberal Rabbi Riskin Extended by 5 Years

Chief Rabbinical Council puts end to row over continued employment of Efrat rabbi, after ultra-Orthodox rabbis attempted to oust him due to his liberal opinions.

Morten Berthelsen

The Chief Rabbinical Council extended the tenure of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the city rabbi of Efrat, by five years.

Rabbi Riskin, who has served as the rabbi of the city of Efrat for over 30 years, recently turned 75. By law, the Rabbinical Council must approve the continuation of his tenure until the age of 80, when he will retire for good.

The law was changed after in the past rabbis had a lifetime appointment, which included their final years when they didn't function at all. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis on the Rabbinical Council, headed by Rabbi Avraham Yosef, tried to exploit the tenure issue in order to oust Riskin, due to his liberal opinions, particularly on the subject of conversion.

The issue caused an uproar among religious Zionists. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a leading religious Zionist rabbi, threatened that if Riskin was ousted he would do everything in his power to oppose the rabbinate. Also supporting Riskin was Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of Habayit Hayehudi, who said that he would accompany him to a hearing. Today there was a discussion in the Rabbinical Council, and the issue was brought to an end by Harel Goldberg, legal advisor to the rabbinate, who determined in a written opinion that the only consideration is the state of the rabbi's health.

In the wake of that opinion, the Chief Rabbinical Council approved the extension of Riskin's term by another five years. At the same time, the council expressed dissatisfaction with some of his halakhic opinions (related to religious law).

The council also reportedly appointed a committee

Also as a result of the opinion, members of the council decided to establish a committee to establish new guidelines as to what can be discussed in extending a municipal rabbi’s term, and to recommend changes that will enable the Chief Rabbinical Council to discuss questions of importance when assessing the rabbis' ability.

During the discussion of Riskin's case, Rabbinical Council members were given a letter by the rabbi in which he wrote that he is part of the network of local rabbis who are an integral part of Israel's Chief Rabbinate, and was therefore requesting a five-year extension of his term. As noted, the council approved his request.

Riskin recently appointed a woman, Jennie Rosenfeld, to serve as a religious leader in Efrat, giving her the title “manhiga ruchanit,” or spiritual adviser. He has also come under fire from the Chief Rabbinate for his views on reforming the conversion process in Israel, supporting a government directive that would allow municipal chief rabbis to form conversion courts rather than requiring potential converts to appear before four Chief Rabbinate-led courts.

These issues reportedly were discussed in connection with summoning Riskin for the hearing.

Earlier this month, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said that “the issue of Rabbi Riskin’s continued service has been blown out of proportion.”

In addition, Israel’s chief Sephardi rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, slammed Riskin during his weekly sermon, saying he made “all kinds of innovations” regarding women and is “making a new war.”