The role of Chief Rabbi of Israel is the product of the catastrophic mingling of religion and politics. Chosen for their political connections rather than their scholarship or exemplary personal life (although past chief rabbis have been blessed with both), the role of chief rabbi is becoming an embarrassment not only to the state but to the Jewish religion as well.
When the last chief rabbis were chosen, the Ashkenazi choice, a former rabbi of Tel Aviv, was faced with numerous allegations of sexual harassment by young men, allegations that were quickly denied and ignored. And now, the Rishon LeZion, his Sephardi counterpart, is embroiled in a bizarre case of kidnapping and assault involving the unwelcome – by the family, not by the girl – 17-year-old suitor of his 18-year-old daughter, Ayala.
According to newspaper reports and contradictory comments about the family’s growing legal team (a lawyer for the rebbitzen and one for the daughter so far, and counting ) the rabbi’s daughter found a young man to her liking through a chat room on the Internet. Appalled at this breach of religious etiquette, in which the parents have the exclusive right to choose the life partner of their child, Rebbitzen Mazal allegedly enlisted the help of her 31-year-old son, Meir, described as having a “rich criminal past,” who’d left home and religion at 13, and who – despite his distance from the family – was apparently only too happy to contribute his expertise in solving this problem.
Together with two of his Arab friends from the village of Kalansuwa, he allegedly forced his sister to arrange a meeting with her boyfriend, who was then stuffed into a car and badly beaten in various locations, including the living room of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who was next door sleeping (righteously and innocently, if he or his newly-hired PR team is to be believed).
Among other indignities, the suitor had his peyot cut off and his skull cap sliced in two.
The rabbi’s wife, son and friends, and his hapless daughter, have all been arrested. Meir Amar has been remanded. The wife and daughter are now under house arrest.
The rabbi himself, back in the country after a quick trip to Thailand to help the victims of the tsunami, was questioned by police on Tuesday concerning his personal disaster.
The spin that the rabbi’s camp is now attempting to put on the story includes the following lines: “Thank the Lord, I have 12 children.” The son – who admits to the assault – is “not really part of the family….”
Which leaves unanswered the question of how Meir Amar knew about the intimate details of his sister’s romantic life. Or why someone totally removed from religion would be so outraged that his 18-year-old sister was going out with a religious boy she happened to meet by herself.
“Everybody has problems with their kids,” to quote Rabbi Amar’s statement published in the press. “The worst part is that the publication of this story will be a desecration of God’s name.”
Silly me, I thought putting a young man into the hospital with multiple injuries was a desecration of God’s name. I thought it was having a chief rabbi who doesn’t understand it was the deed, not its publication, that was a desecration of God’s name.
But I’m only a simple religious Jew not politically connected to any well-bankrolled religious party.
Perhaps the time has come for the State of Israel to abolish the office of chief rabbi and allow the simple, religious Jews of Israel to go back to the time-honored method of choosing their religious leaders by merit, not via backroom political horse-trading.