“You are the rabbis of all the people of Israel. You are the rabbis of all the non-religious public who need your help, your patience and your tolerance.”
With those words, Prime Minister Netanyahu last week welcomed the election of Israel’s new Ashkenazic chief rabbi, David Lau, and its new Rishon L’Tzion, Yitzchak Yosef.
Whether they will be “the rabbis of all the people of Israel” remains to be seen, however. They were elected following one of the dirtiest, most bitter, invective-filled partisan campaigns Israel has seen – the kind of campaign that never should be seen in an election to a position of religious leadership.
Lau and Yosef outpolled more moderate Orthodox candidates for their respective titles, and they did so with the full backing of the charedim, the very sector of Israel’s religious community that has shown little love, much less any tolerance and patience, for fellow Jews of any stream.
Both men are the sons of former chief rabbis of great stature. In his responsa, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef often (but not always) shows a pragmatism otherwise absent from the charedi world that backed his son. It is for good reason that Rabbi Israel Meir Lau is known as “the consensus rabbi,” able to bridge the gap between extremes. His son is more to the right of center, but has shown an ability to appeal even to secular Jews.
We, too, welcome their election, but we will keep our eyes and ears open.