Come On, Give the Rabbi's Hand a Kiss

Israeli politics is trapped in a web of nepotism and corruption involving police and politicians, and the rabbis who grant them legitimacy.

1. Haaretz published story this week about prisoners in the United States opting for kosher food, and in the process reeking havoc on the food budget at American jails. The article featured a picture of inmates sitting down to eat and they were not donning kippot, the skullcaps worn by observant Jews. In Israel, kosher prison fare is the standard, not in observance of Jewish dietary laws but because of the covert control of religion in Israel. Note what's going on. Many criminals and criminal suspects are brought to court wearing kippot of varying sizes, and some can even be seen wearing tzitzit, the ritual fringes worn by Orthodox men.

I’m not suggesting, heaven forbid, that every prisoner brought into court in chains is religious. What is apparent, however, is that a large number of the detainees, even high-profile criminals, suddenly turn God-fearing, or to be more exact, they expect at the very least to benefit from divine provenance. That’s particularly true if they have some connection to the circle of followers of a well-known rabbi, a healer, someone who bestows favors in times of distress, servants of God or otherwise, money launderers or those capable of settling accounts. And above all if they have ties to the rabbinical figure whose hands are kissed by senior police officials and by the nation’s leaders in a kind of you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement.

2. A prominent phenomena among Israel Police brass is that they tend to gain weight. At least I'm not saying they're very fat. These aren’t cops walking a beat (there is no such thing in Israel), who get rewarded with food at a neighborhood restaurant - these are policeman in the highest echelons. Their collective corpulence is particularly apparent when they crowd in together to announce a major break in a case that perhaps hasn’t gotten sufficient press. And when a few of them wade into the circle of the likes of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, who has been accused of bribing an top officer, they get a bad name.

What do they want from him? A favor? A loan? A referral to Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan, the so-called X-ray rabbi? And what’s even more serious - what does Rabbi Pinto, whose fortune is estimated in the tens of millions of dollars, want from them? He has a rare gold Mont Blanc pen and a expensive gold watch, and millions in cash that run through his operations. That’s not why they kiss his hands. Maybe they are seeking good-luck charm for their wives? The danger of the kisses, backslaps and handshakes among the rabbis, the senior police officials and the politicians is not in the hand-kissing but that it turns into you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours.

3. It’s true that many Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern descent believe in superstitions like the one that a kiss from an important rabbi or family head is an unwritten blessing. A senior officer of our ethnicity (and I won’t mention who) once recounted what happened after his father saw him kissing the hand of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late spiritual leader of Shas. The father told his policeman son: I forbade you from kissing my hand once you reached rank and that applies to the rabbi's hand just as well. Royalty does not kiss a hand.

4. In a poll published this week on Channel 1's “Politika” program, Netanyahu turned out in the lead with 34 Knesset seats. Yisrael Beiteinu’s Lieberman is disappearing and all the others are on the decline. The Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog, with 16 seats, would propose joining a coalition with Bibi. And in the background are the secret plans by Moshe Kahlon to establish a alternative party to Netanyahu’s Likud. The big surprise is the dramatic decline of Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid. It’s a classic challenge of a finance minister. If he's good at his jobs, he will have no choice but to hurt his constituents because economic reality dictates moves that are not popular. You want success? Go ahead and give a kiss. The rabbis are waiting for you.

Moti Milrod