Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rabbi Riskin Revisited

Rabbi Riskin addressing a Glen Beck event in Israel (Haaretz)
A few weeks ago, there were media reports about the possibility of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate not renewing Rabbi Riskin’s status as Chief Rabbi of Efrat. Not that this position was being taken from him.  Only that the normally automatic renewal of Chief Rabbis over the age of 75 was not going to happen until a hearing was held by the rabbinate.

I responded at the time that although I had profound respect and admiration for all of his contributions to Klal Yisroel, there were indeed questions that Rabbi Riskin needed to answer in light of the way he had apparently changed his Hashkafos over the years. I therefore did not blame the Rabbinate for summoning him. However, I did not call for his resignation. I took a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

The reasons for my hesitations about Rabbi Riskin were discussed in an essay I wrote at the time. Mostly having to do with some questionable activity and advocacy.  One of the more pressing of which was his ordination of women. He had recently appointed a woman he ordained as the spiritual leader of Efrat, the community on the West Bank he founded and has led for decades. Although he called her a spiritual adivisor, I felt that it was just another name for rabbi. Which I felt crossed a serious Haskafic and possibly even Halchic line. As I’ve said many times paraphrasing Shakespeare, a rose by any other name is still a rose.

I have also stated in the past why I am opposed to female rabbis. It is mainly because by its very nature, there are things a woman cannot do that are integral to being a rabbi. Well it seems I am in good company. Here is what Rabbi Riskin said about that: 
We opt, however, not to use the title “rabbi” for our graduates because – especially in smaller congregations throughout the Diaspora – the “rabbi” is expected to pray on behalf of the congregation in public prayer and publicly read from the Torah, functions which we believe that women may not discharge for congregations comprised of men and women. 
To me this means that Rabbi Riskin is not ordaining women to be rabbis in the traditional sense. What he has done is educated women to take on many of the duties of a rabbi that they are permitted to execute as women. Although there is some controversy about just what they can and cannot do as women, there is at least solid Halachic responsa on the subject that support Rabbi Riskin’s views. 

I am therefore satisfied that Rabbi Riskin has done nothing more that given these women a new title that allows them to perform many of the duties of a rabbi without actually being one. Something I have actually advocated. He has extended their purview to include some of those controversial areas embracing the views of those who permit it. Whether one agrees with him or not, this is not something that he should be criticized for. He has stayed well within Halalcha. 

So for me, on this important issue, I am satisfied that he has not crossed any Halachic or even hashkafic lines. I still disagree with him on other matters (such as the strange comments he made about Rabbi Jesus - see below) , but none of them rise to the level of ousting him from his position. When one considers all of the other things he has done in his life and the enormous support he has from his community in Efrat, it is a no brainer for me. He should retain his position.  

It appears that he will. Ha’aretz reports the following: 
There is no plan to force Efrat’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin into retirement despite the harsh comments that have been made about him in recent weeks and demands not to extend his tenure, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said (last) Wednesday. 
That is the right decision. It is also the view of one of my heroes, Rabbi Berel Wein. He has come out with an enthusiastic endorsement of Rabbi Riskin – strongly criticizing the Rabbinate for even considering his ouster: 
Another organization, which is seemingly bent on self-destruction is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Also racked by recent scandal and shameful leadership, and having lost most of its credibility and constituency over the past few decades, the Chief Rabbinate is somehow now preoccupied with not renewing the tenure of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin as Chief Rabbi of Efrat. 
There are very few rabbis in the world who have done more for the cause of Torah education, synagogue and community service, and building the Land of Israel then Rabbi Riskin. This is not meant as a eulogy, God forbid, and he does not need my approval or approbation. By attacking him however, the Chief Rabbinate is only exposing its own weaknesses, shortcomings and complete misunderstanding of the nature and mood of the people that it is supposed to serve. 
I agree with him. But I wonder why he didn’t address some of the concerns expressed by the rabbinate? Even as he apparently doesn’t think much of them (...less then even Rabbi Riskin does apparently). those concerns exist and remain controversial. One can support Rabbis Riskin’s retention of his position – as I now do, but I think he should have at least mentioned them and explained why he doesn’t think they are problem.

In any case, Rabbi Riskin will remain in place – as he should. So all’s well that ends well.