U.S. Jews Call for Civility in Chief Rabbi Race After Harassment of Tzohar's David Stav

American rabbis empathize with Tzohar head after Rabbi Ovadia Yosef labels him 'wicked.'

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Jewish groups have called for civility in the campaign for chief rabbi of Israel after candidate Rabbi David Stav was harassed at a wedding and labeled “a wicked man” by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League were among the groups this week that came out against violence and asked Israeli leaders of all stripes to promote respect among the factions.

The Rabbinical Council of America and the International Rabbinic Fellowship also supported Stav, the head of the Tzohar organization for religious Zionist rabbis in Israel.

Tzohar works to involve non-religious couples and their families in religious wedding ceremonies, as well as in dialogue on other divisive issues in Israel.

On Sunday night, Stav was jostled and verbally abused at the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall.

According to reports, a group of ultra-Orthodox teens shoved Stav during the celebratory dancing and tried to make him fall. He was later attacked verbally by some guests.

The previous evening, Yosef, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, said in a sermon that electing Stav as a chief rabbi would be like “bringing idolatry into the temple.”

“This man is a danger to Judaism, a danger to the Rabbinate, a danger to Torah – and I should keep silent? They want to make him a chief rabbi? This man unworthy of anything! Can they do such a thing?” Yosef said.

AJC Executive Director David Harris condemned the “shocking assault” on Stav by fellow Jews, calling it “painful and inexcusable.”

“Whatever differences may exist among factions supporting one or another candidate for the post of Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, they should be debated and resolved with civility, not resort to violence.”

Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, condemned hateful statements in the public discourse concerning candidates for Israel’s chief rabbi, saying it “jeopardizes the value of free and open dialogue in Israeli society.”

“When hate-filled and derogatory statements come from senior rabbis, it can fuel and legitimize verbal and even physical attacks,” said Forxman. “Let’s keep the discussion focused on the important political and social issues,” he urged.

Foxman called on “the spiritual, political and social leadership in Israel to speak up against such attacks and to take every step possible to promote mutual respect among the various schools of Judaism.”

Yosef’s words have also been condemned by Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.

Expessing support for Stav, the RCA, with Rabbi Shmuel Goldin at its head, wrote a letter to the rabbi on Monday. “We shook at the sound of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s terrible words,” wrote the RCA, an umbrella group for Orthodox rabbis, adding that it appreciates what Stav has done ”for the good of the people of Israel, the land of Israel and the State of Israel.”

The International Rabbinic Fellowship, which represents 150 Orthodox rabbis mostly in the United States and Israel, wrote in a statement issued Monday that it “publicly reaffirms its admiration and affection” for Stav, whom it described as “a scholar and visionary.”

In a message on his Facebook page posted Sunday night, Stav thanked the public for the “thousands of emails, texts and phone calls … from rabbis, community leaders and many of you, to strengthen me and my family in light of the personal attacks against me.”

Stav added that he was “torn by the divisive atmosphere” around the chief rabbi election.

Tzohar, in a statement released Sunday, said Yosef’s remarks testify to “the urgent need for change across the rabbinate” and said he should “repent and ask for forgiveness.”

A date for choosing the next Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis has not been set, though it must take place in the coming weeks.

Rabbi David Stav.Credit: Gali Eytan

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