Monday, April 28, 2014

He Is Not Rav Ovadia - Not Even Close!

Rabbi Shalom Cohen
I find it very difficult to understand how someone who is so prejudiced against religious Jews (or any Jews for that matter) could be chosen to lead the Sephardi community in Israel. But that is exactly what seems to have happened. Rabbi Shalom Cohen has been chosen to head the Shas Council of Torah sages. He is the successor to his mentor, the late Sephardi Gadol, Rav Ovadia Yosef.

How dare I say that this Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef is prejudiced against religious Jews? Well... because he said so. I guess the situation in Israel brings out truths that otherwise may stay hidden. A lot of angry voices are being heard about the new draft laws that require Charedim to register for the draft… and require a prison penalty to be applied uniformly to all draft dodgers, including any Yeshiva Bachurim who refuse to be inducted when called up.

Rabbi Cohen’s voice is one of the more shrill ones.  He, like all other Charedi rabbinic leaders sees the draft as an attack upon Torah itself. Which in my view it clearly is not. In part he blames religious Jews for this turn of events. Here is what he said immediately upon being announced as Rav Yosef’s successor. From Joseph Aaron’s latest column in the Chicago Jewish News
“They hate us, all the ignoramuses of the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid,” Cohen said, referencing the Zionist Orthodox party and the secularist party. “There is no difference between the two. The Holy One, Blessed be He, wants us to stay away from them. They are there, we are here. They will pursue their nonsense, we will pursue our holy Torah.” 
In the past, Cohen has called Zionist Orthodox Jews “Amalek” — an extinct people that the Torah singles out for total annihilation for what is described as their cruelty to Jews. He suggested that national religious Israelis aren’t Jews. 
Referring to national religious Israelis by the colloquial Hebrew term for “knit kipa” — the preferred headgear for such Jews — Rabbi Cohen said that “as long as there are knit kippot, the [divine] throne is not whole. That’s Amalek. When will the throne be whole? When there is no knit kipa.” 
OK. I’m sure he didn’t mean all knit Kipa wearing Jews. I’m sure he was only talking about those in the Kenesset that worked on the new draft law.  Like Ayelet Shaked - a member of the Dati Leumi Religious Zionist party Bayit HaYehudi  who chaired the committee named after her.

The Shaked committee was charged with crafting the new draft law. Which it did. But even if he limited it to those people, it is still a hateful statement that calls good people, who are religious – Amalek. What kind of Jew calls any other Jew Amalek?  Certainly one who is named to lead the entire Sephardi community should not be one of them!  And yet he was the one chosen to follow in Rav Ovaida Yosef’s footsteps. I don’t get that. Should his considerable knowledge of Torah outweigh his terrible attitude and accompanying hateful rhetoric? Even if he doesn’t mean it for everyone?

Even if we are to give Rabbi Cohen the benefit of the doubt and say that he spoke in a moment of heated passion and doesn’t really mean it at all, shouldn’t that still make us wary of how he will conduct himself in similar situations when the pressure is on?  Public leaders ought to have better control over what they say.

Frankly I’m skeptical  that he didn’t really mean it.  The Gemarah (Eruvin 65b) tells us that one’s true character comes out under 3 very specific circumstances - B’Kiso, B’Kaso and B’Koso – through his wallet, when in a state of anger, or when he is drunk. When a person speaks in a moment of anger, the truth comes out. Rabbi Cohen spoke in a moment of anger.

Rabbi Cohen apparently has no use for Modern Orthodox Jews. Religious leaders whose knowledge of Torah is as thorough, as his most likely is - ought to be respected. But it’s difficult for me, a Modern Orthodox Jew to respect anyone like that. Even with all of that Torah knowledge.