Opinion

Why Does Israel's Technion Even Have a Rabbi?

What is a rabbi who bans Jewish students from entering a building with a Christmas tree doing in the prestigious technological institution? | Opinion

Students posing for a selfie in front of the Christmas tree located inside the student union of the Technion, December 20, 2016.
Rami Shllush

Why does the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have a rabbi? The Technion is an academic institution specializing in technological subjects. One can study architecture there biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, medicine and more. What does a rabbi have to do there? Last week the Technion rabbi, Elad Dokow, made headlines after he prohibited Jewish students from entering the Student Union building and eating at its restaurants because of the Christmas tree that had been put up there.

Dokow, who has his doctorate in mathematics, teaches mathematics at the Technion. But he’s a foolish man. The “problematics” that he found in the Christmas tree is not the only problematics that keep him awake at night. About a year ago he published an article on the Orthodox website Srugim in which he called for the establishment of a synagogue on the Temple Mount and determined that the reason for the disasters that befall the Jewish people is neglect of that sacred site.

The man certainly shows activism in leading his flock. What is the source of his authority? Who grants him the status of a spiritual leader? What makes his scribbled rulings about Christmas trees and renewing worship on the Temple Mount reverberate with the importance of mass-distribution news stories? Only the fact that he is the rabbi of the Technion.

That is because the Technion is not just any college, it is a prestigious institution with a global reputation. It’s hard to get accepted there. To study there you have to be smart. Only the smartest of Israel’s students, the gems of the gems, study astrophysics there, or aeronautics and space engineering. A degree from the Technion is a status symbol.

This prestige, of course, naturally extends itself to the “Technion rabbi.” And all the more so when it turns out that he is a lecturer in mathematics there. And only because of his identification with the Technion does his ignorant, primitive, irrational and racist worldview get any attention at all.

Dokow, thanks to his advanced degree, is now one of the clerical formulators of the trend of fascism in Israel. The fascism of clerical clerks. In his case this is particularly grating, given that his nave faith in a God who created the world and brings disasters on the Jewish people (whom God intended as “a light unto the gentiles”) for neglecting worship on the Temple Mount stands in utter logical and empirical contradiction to the principles on which all the Technion’s faculties were founded.

If God created the world, the Technion can be shut down. It should be shut down, even. The entire culture that gave birth to expedited technological development reflected in the Technion and the flourishing of academic disciplines like physics were made possible only thanks to secularism. So why does the Technion have a rabbi?

My question might be too philosophical for the Technion. It simply informed me that “since its earliest days, the Technion also employs a rabbi to serve the Technion community.” One of the laws of nature.

“The rabbi is responsible for the activities of the synagogue – the holding of prayers, lessons on Torah, halakha [Jewish law] and thought, seminars and parties, sacred objects, managing the synagogue budget and more. He is also responsible for koshering the campus restaurants and serves as a spiritual guide for those who come to the synagogue and gives advice on matters within his purview for members of the Technion community who seek it.”

But why? Why does the Technion provide lessons on Torah, Jewish law and thought by a rabbi in the synagogue? Let them study the philosophy of religion, with academic standards. Let them respect the technological and scientific heritage the Technion is intended to represent. Why does a rabbi have to be attached even to astrophysics, a rabbi who believes that in an institution that teaches people how to fly to space (isn’t that God’s house? Does God allow that?) it’s important to warn them to avoid the building with the Christmas tree?