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July 24, 2013 12:11 am

Candidate for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate David Stav on Conversions, Women of the Wall and Healing the Rift Between the Orthodox and the Secular (INTERVIEW)

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Rabbi David Stav. Photo: Wikipedia.

On the eve of elections for the Israeli chief rabbinate, one of the more prominent candidates, Rabbi David Stav, told The Algemeiner that he believes he has what it takes to heal the growing rift in Israeli society between secular and orthodox Jews.

“I really believe that in this historic moment in Israel’s history we actually have two choices,” he declared, “We can tear Israeli society to pieces.  There will be one Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) piece, and the rest of the people, or we can make all efforts in order to insist on having ourselves as one united nation.”

Sharply criticized by the Ultra-Orthodox for what they describe as a liberal lean in how they say he would administer Jewish law as chief rabbi, Stav maintains that he brings a revolution that is more in style than in Halachic (Jewish legal) substance. “I believe that we, me and my friends, have the way to expose Israeli society to Jewish tradition and to Jewish heritage without causing anti-religious and other reactions that bring Israeli society to kind of a hatred of Jewish tradition,” Stav said, citing the work of his organization, Tzohar, that strives to provide “strictly Halachic” weddings while showing sensitivity to the “unique needs,” of couples and their families.

The rabbi points to the hugely successful Jewish outreach group, Chabad, as an example of how strong Jewish traditions can be maintained without alienating more liberal constituents. “I think that Tzohar and Chabad share a lot in common,” he says.

“Actually, one of my friends wrote an article last Friday saying that our dream is to make all local rabbinates and all local offices of the religious councils as kind of branches of Chabad, meaning we want to make these places into embracing places, people that will come there will feel welcome,” he said.

But, he insists, on the key issues that the rabbinate is tasked with administering, he will stay true to the letter of the law. “I believe that the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe’s demand that insisted on the acceptance of Torah and mitzvot as a condition for being a part of the Jewish nation, of converting, is accepted by me,” Stav said, adding, “there will be no change in the Halachic demands of the convert, no change whatsoever.”

Stav is popular in Israel among the modern Orthodox, and describes himself as coming from the “religious Zionist stream.” His opponents however claim that his willingness to embrace those with a lesser commitment to orthodox Judaism may lead to a bending of the strict Judaic laws on conversion, marriage and Jewish life that are maintained by the Jewish state’s chief rabbinate.

When the lines of politics and morality meet Stav says that he would be willing to speak out, even on controversial issues.

“I believe that the Chief Rabbi has to be involved as long as he feels that he serves a moral issue that relates to the Jewish existence in the State of Israel. If there is harm, damage, that is caused to certain people because of political issues, decisions, this should be something that concerns him,” he said.

But, Stav clarified: “Only when I’ll be sure that it’s something that nobody knows without me saying.  For instance, the government decides to withdraw from Gaza. I’m deeply convinced that Halachically it’s forbidden. Now I have to ask myself whether my being involved will add to the discussion.”

Stav also sees the rabbinate’s relationship with diaspora Jewish communities as very important.

“I think that the chief rabbinate plays a very important role in the relationship between the Jews in the diaspora and the people that live here (Israel),” he confirmed, “because if the Chief Rabbinate will not show a face that is kind of embracing to the entire Jewish people all over the world, we’ll find ourselves in a situation whereby more and more rabbis in congregations, and people – it doesn’t matter whether they’re conservative, reform or orthodox – will say, ‘We don’t want to have any connection with the State of Israel because they insult us here and insult us there.'”

One issue that has attracted media attention, and prompted the involvement of American Jewish groups, is the Women of the Wall campaign for Israel to allow women to behave exactly as men while praying at the Western Wall. Stav believes he can find a solution that would be agreeable to both sides. “If there will be goodwill from all sides we’ll find a solution,” he pledged, citing the media attention earned by the various groups over the issue as an obstruction to amicable talks.

“I believe that the main problem there is the approach of the police to the Women of the Wall more than the approach of others to them, because I think many people took advantage of the fact that the police arrested women who were wearing tefillin and tzitzit.  And you know, to see a policeman arrest a woman wearing tallis and tefillin seems very strange and, I would dare to say, even stupid.  So I guess these are the issues that bother American society. I believe that it could be solved,” he explained further.

“We will be here as a listening ear that will try to help every Jew in every community all over the world with its Halachic problems, with its rabbinical problems or with any other kind of problems that people have,” Stav promised in his closing remarks. “We want to become an address for the Jewish people.”

“For all the Jewish people?” asked The Algemeiner.

“All the Jewish people,” the rabbi affirmed.

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  • howard brown

    Thumbs up for Stav. Chabad “converted” me from an indifferent Jew to a lover of Israel and Shabbat-observer. If he sees the value of Chabad then he should get the job.

  • R

    I think it comes down to a single issue: THE RIGHT FOR WOMEN TO PRAY AT THE WALl, or anywhere else, for that matter.

    SO LONG AS JUDAISM DOES NOT TAKE THE POSITION THAT WOMEN ARE SECOND-CLASS MEMBERS OF THE TRIBE, THEY SHOULD BE ENTITLED TO ALL RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES, AS LONG AS THEY ACCEPT THE OBLIGATIONS. Let’s face it, the Jewish Bible does not state that women are prohibited from praying. The form of prayer which includes tallit and tefillin is simply an overt form of “ME, TOO” which only serves to reinforce the women’s issue. It’s not the right to wear them; it’s the right to PRAY that’s at stake here

    Let’s face it: men do not OWN THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES!!

    Who was behind Moses all the way? HIS WIFE!! !

    LET’S GET OVER IT, GUYS! DIDN’T OUR MOTHERS PREACH TO US FROM THE TIME WE COULD UNDERSTAND, “MARRY A JEWISH GIRL”? Sooo, we did. Whaddya complaining about! SHE WANTS TO “BE JEWISH” in practice, too!! (It’s more than just keeping a kosher kitchen. We all oughta be down on our knees in gratitude!!

    If she insists on wearing tallit and teffillin, we oughta help her put them on correctly,
    and be glad we fulfilled our Mother’s wishes and married a “nice Jewish girl!”

    IT’S TIME FOR ALL US MEN TO GET OVER IT! We should b e grateful that our wives, mothers, and daughters WANT to pray along with us. WELCOME TO THE TRIBE!! (and when do we eat?)

  • R

    Let “equal rights” be the right (for woen) to pay at the Wakk. Wearing tallis, tefillin, is only a “show” of equal rights: it doesn’t make prayer any more sincere or acceptable. The issue is the RIGHT TO PRAY AT THE WALL. WHY NOT separate but equal?? (haven’t we heard that before?) This time it might even work for both ides!

  • Otto Waldmann in Sydney

    Many, complex issues:
    – a diminution of Jewish values to accomodate those who do not understand the significance of the values, particularly in the passing of important occassions, such as conversions to Judaism, cannot possibly help in the continuity of Jewish LIFE. Weddings are but a moment, so what’s the big issue in doing it with the beauty of OUR traditions !
    – women of the wall have a much larger and pernicious agenda, aside from the frivolous, deficient mannic obsession with “segregated” garb. How can we legitimse hysteria right where one should meditate with reverence at the importance of respect for a cohesive spiritual entity !!But the Annat Hoffman’s of our marginalised disturbances, go a lot further. Instiganting conflict out of base malice cum ignorance cannot be allowd to become a legitimate “Jewish” institution. They peddle not just offensive parades of a fashion circus , but naked hatred of estbalished Judaic existential principles. They hate Rabbis a lot more than love the colour scheme of the tallit. What’s to respect there, the vulgarity seen at the “right” to express views steamed by the fury of menopausal glandular disorders !
    Judaism must be understood and lived not opposed.

  • Jeffrey Justin

    No one asked ,What kind of Jew you were at the Gas Chambers

    • David Hoffman

      Actually, while the Nazis – may their name be erased – would take any Jews they could get, they made special efforts to go after Talmud scholars and Hassidic leaders, as well as to find and destroy Torah scrolls, copies of the Talmud and other religious texts. They abominated the Jewish “race” and Jewish culture alike, and they recognised that these people and the texts they studied were at the heart of both.

    • wandaburch

      the best answer also do not send us

  • Edward Lipke

    Halachically, men are obliged to don tallit and tefillin, I don’t believe that there is a prohibition for women to do so. If they wish to do so , hey knock yourself out.

  • Yitzchak BenBaruch

    I, as both a realistic and. Spiritual Jew, feel that Rav Stav is the best candidate for the position as a Chief Rabbi for Israel and abroad. Face it, what ‘s the point of keeping the Jewish people apart? We are of one People, no matter of our “religious” background. His attitude is more practical. He understands the balance of Judaism and human needs.

  • Rachel Yeshurun

    Women of the Wall is a pluralistic group of women from all the streams of Judaism including Orthodox, Reform and Conservative. Our goal is not to “allow women to behave exactly as men at the Kotel”, but rather to achieve the social and legal right for women to pray together as a group, with tallit and tefilin and read from a sefer torah collectively and out loud.

    Our goal is for equal rights.

    We certainly do not want to behave exactly as some of the very rude and violent men at the Kotel.

    • Zehava

      I am sorry but I refuse to believe anyone from any orthodox circles are part of the women of the wall. This “donning” of tallit and tefillin is sad and if these women really learned what it means to be a woman in Judaism and why we have NO NEED to do such a thing, then maybe they would think twice. But alas, people will do what the want whether they know why their doing it or not. It’s not ussur for women to wear these things, its just silly. It’s like a woman wearing a jock strap. There’s no need but wear one if you want. I do agree people should not have been violent towards them, obviously, that too is totally against halacha but saying that this is for equal rights is the stupidist thing i have ever heard. Women have equal rights, but say it in the name of your own idiocy, not in the name of Judaism, because it is clear what it says in halacha, and thats that. So please, call it something else.