Titles, Right or Wrong

When I was small, it occurred to me that I had a problem with Judaism. God was not the problem, nor was the Torah. It was the rabbis.

When I was small, it occurred to me that I had a problem with Judaism. God was not the problem, nor was the Torah. I believed very strongly in God. I believed in His Book. I believed that the stories were true, the teachings wise far beyond my understanding. I had no problem with God. Nevertheless, try as mightily as I could, and did, I could not bring myself to believe in rabbis.

Now that I am grown up, I see why.

My reluctance to put my faith in rabbis has now been accompanied - and reinforced - by a sense that there's no point in believing in presidents, either.

Let's consider the person chosen to serve as the moral standard for the nation, the public figure elected with the express purpose of uniting Israelis of all walks of life, and of helping to ensure that Jews across the Diaspora feel a sense of kinship, common purpose and shared destiny with their brethren in the State of Israel. President Moshe Katsav clearly shares none of my mistrust for rabbis - as long as they are certified strictly Orthodox. He has been unable to bring himself to address the leader of the largest Jewish religious movement in North America by his rightful title of "rabbi."

Katsav chose a nationally broadcast interview marking Rosh Hashanah which, according to tradition, is the period when all Jews are called to search their souls and reexamine the wrongs they have done to others, to explain why he had snubbed Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Katsav explained that he grew up in a home in which the only people recognized as rabbis were those who had received a recognized Orthodox ordination.

"As soon as the Knesset of the State of Israel decides to recognize a Reform rabbi as such, the president will have to as well," Katsav said. "As long as the State of Israel does not recognize him, I will not be the first to do so."

Moshe Katsav will, however, be the first president of Israel to have faced the strong possibility of indictment on a number of counts of alleged rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. He is the first president to have been accused of molesting female employees. And the first to have been accused by an employee of the president's office of having forced her to engage in sexual intercourse more than once, and of having physically and verbally abused her.

Having denied all wrongdoing, he is also the first president to have refused to step aside or step down, effectively leaving Israel without a functioning head of state.

Pardon our question, but who is Moshe Katsav to deny a rabbi his due and rightful form of address? Just have a look at some of the people he is willing to call rabbi.

Take the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, who took office under suspicions that he had sexually harassed a number of men while carrying out his former duties as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. Metzger was also suspected of having forged signatures on wedding contracts, as a part of an alleged scam to maximize the fees he received for performing the ceremonies.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, deciding against indicting Metzger for lack of evidence, publicly advised the chief rabbi to resign of his own accord, saying his continued tenure was liable to seriously hamper the public standing of the Chief Rabbinate.

Metzger has refused to recuse himself until he is cleared of the suspicions - thus, in essence, denying Israel of an Ashkenazi chief rabbi worthy of the name.

Katsav has no problem calling him rabbi.

Then there is Metzger's Sephardi counterpart, Shlomo Amar. Last year, after a 17-year-old Haredi youth had been seen hanging around with Amar's daughter, the teenager was kidnapped to a house in an Israeli Arab village, held against his will and beaten, then brought to the chief rabbi's own house, where he was held for some time.

The youth later said that Amar had known of and helped in planning the abduction, which was carried out by Amar's son Meir, 31. During the kidnapping, the teenager later told Yedioth Ahronoth, Meir "answered the phone and said, 'Dad, what's going on? ... Don't worry, he won't come out in one piece.' ... At 6 A.M. Rabbi Amar called and said, 'Come home.' They put me in the car ... The rabbi was home."

Meir Amar was later sentenced to prison for kidnapping, abusing a minor, illegal confinement, extortion, causing bodily harm and other offenses. Rabbi Amar told detectives he was in the house, but asleep at the time, and had no knowledge of the incident. He refused to recuse himself during the investigation, in essence denying Israel of a Sephardi chief rabbi worthy of the name.

Katsav has no problem addressing Shlomo Amar as rabbi.

But Katsav can't bring himself to accord Eric Yoffie his rightful title.

Under the circumstances, it is only fair and fitting that we stop addressing Katsav as president.