Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has been summoned for a hearing by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s office to determine if his term in the West Bank settlement will be extended by an additional five years.
The issue came up on the agenda of a meeting in the Chief Rabbinate’s office on Monday, because Riskin will be turning 75 this week, the age at which a rabbi’s term officially ends. Five-year extensions are regularly granted, but in Riskin’s case there were a number of objections.
According to a report on the Arutz 7 news site, during the meeting, it emerged that a majority of attendees opposed extending Riskin’s term, on account of his relatively liberal views on issues such as conversion, which run counter to the official policies of the Rabbinate.
However, the decision was reportedly pushed off at the intervention of Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, who demanded that Riskin be granted a hearing before a decision is made in his case.
Tzohar, a group of liberal Orthodox rabbis that has been associated with Riskin, issued a sharp statement against the Rabbinate’s decision to summon him for a hearing.
“Above any effort to depose Rabbi Riskin flies a clear red flag of revenge directed against his positions and halachic decisions,” the group said in a statement.
“Rabbi Riskin, who has led the community of Efrat with love and dedication and is beloved by so many, is a true symbol of spiritual leadership,” the statement said. “And instead of exalting his accomplishments, figures in the Rabbinate are choosing to force the rabbi into early retirement because of their political considerations or apparently so that they can appoint insiders in his place.”
MK Aliza Lavie of Yesh Atid fumed at the “putsch” against the rabbi.
“Rabbi Riskin says and he does,” she said in a statement. “He is a guiding light. The assault against him led by the Rabbinate is a schism, an assault that will ultimately split the Chief Rabbinate from the people.
“This move symbolizes the culmination of the ongoing separation of the Rabbinate from the people, certainly from the residents of Efrat, who are very satisfied with Rabbi Riskin, but especially among immigrants he has brought in and women he has encouraged, in elevating their study of Torah and halachic decision-making.”
Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, a prominent modern Orthodox rabbi who lives in Efrat, said in a tweet Monday evening that should Riskin be removed from office, he would push for the dismantlement of the Chief Rabbinate.
According to Israeli law, municipal rabbis who assumed their positions between 1974 and 2007 must retire at 75. However, the Chief Rabbinical Council can vote to extend a rabbi’s term until his 80th birthday.
If a move is made to remove Riskin on account of his positions, a legal battle could ensue.
Riskin is an outspoken proponent of legislation that would empower municipal rabbis to form ad hoc conversion courts, a move that is opposed by the country’s two chief rabbis. He has also worked to elevate the status of women within the Orthodox rabbinical establishment, drawing frequent criticism from more conservative rabbis.
Last year, Riskin was quoted as saying, “I was a very strong proponent of the new conversion law, which gives every city rabbi the chance to do conversions in Israel. All the city rabbis in Israel are Orthodox. There is no non-Orthodox city rabbi in Israel. I’m one of the city rabbis.
“The chief rabbinate, just about 15 years ago, demanded exclusivity in the area of conversion, something that was not the case since the Israeli state was founded, and there has never been only one exclusive manner of converting for the last 2,000 years.”
Riskin co-founded Efrat in 1982 after moving to Israel from New York City, where he garnered acclaim as the rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue. He has been the official rabbi of the city ever since. He is also the founder of Ohr Torah Stone, a network of yeshivas, headquartered in the city.