When Arrogance Meets Ignorance

Finance Minister Yair Lapid has justly earned a reputation for arrogance. But his recent demand that the Chief Rabbis be fired for stating the obvious — that religious girls have no place in the Israeli army — is stunning in its chutzpah, even for him.

For starters, there is the wording of his statement on the matter. “David Lau and Yitzchak Yosef are no longer worthy to serve in Israel as Chief Rabbis,” Lapid writes. This mechutzaf is on first-name terms with the Chief Rabbis and deems himself fit to decide whether they are “worthy” to serve in their positions.

Second, there is the obvious contempt that Lapid has for the institution of the Chief Rabbinate and religious Jewry. He wouldn’t dare speak in the same way about Supreme Court justices who ruled in a way that contradicted his “values.” He would never use such terms as “insolence” and “national scandal” to describe university professors who preach that no one should serve in the Israel army, not even men, or who call Israeli generals war criminals.

The courts, he would concede, must have autonomy. The university professors, even those who kick out of their classes students doing reserve duty who have the “audacity” to come to class in their IDF uniforms, must be granted complete freedom to express themselves. But the Chief Rabbis? They are, in Lapid’s contemptible words, “state employees who collect a nice paycheck…”

Third, the prohibition against women serving in the IDF is a consensus issue among all streams of the religious public. In fact, the person who occupies the second position on Lapid’s Yesh Atid list, Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron, has himself come out against it.

“The problem with military service is the general atmosphere that doesn’t allow a life without unnecessary deterioration,” Piron wrote in answer to a young woman asking whether she should enlist. “As we are aware of the physical dangers, even more so must we be sensitive to everything concerning spiritual dangers. Therefore, do everything not to arrive at a dangerous situation and avoid being in all types of service entailing danger.”

Fourth, if Lapid is so infuriated by the Chief Rabbinate’s position on women serving in the Israeli army, why he is waking up now? As Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Rabbi Eli ben Dahan points out, “The prohibition for girls to serve in the IDF was established by Chief Rabbi Yaakov Herzog, zt”l, when the state was established in 1948. Since then all Chief Rabbis have made the same ruling.”

Ben Dahan surmises that Lapid reacted out of ignorance, but he adds that in any event the finance minister has no power to “fire” the Chief Rabbis, certainly not for a halachic ruling.

Lapid’s patronizing view of the Chief Rabbis, a natural outgrowth of his utter disrespect for Yiddishkeit, represents a serious threat to the Jewish character of the state. What is going to stop him from similarly lashing out at Rabbanim who pasken that a shul must have a mechitzah — offending his shallow, pop-culture “value” of equality — and threatening to “act … in the Knesset and in the government and even in the legal sphere” to have them dismissed?

Will Rabbanim have to fear for their jobs if they “dare” state unequivocally that halachah has zero tolerance for any attempt to redefine the traditional family unit?

It is obvious that in a Jewish country the Chief Rabbis, who by law enjoy the same status as the president of the Supreme Court, must have complete autonomy. The separation of powers principle that protects the High Court from the politicians must also protect the Chief Rabbis.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman, head of the Bnei Akiva yeshivah movement who called Lapid’s threats “first class chutzpah,” correctly observed that Israel is not communist Russia. And Lapid is not the paritz who will dictate to Rabbanim his ideas of Judaism.

To be fair, Lapid isn’t the first to attempt to erode the authority of the Chief Rabbis. The secular courts have acted with impudence in overruling the Rabbinate on non-halachic conversions being used as a basis for granting automatic Israeli citizenship under the Right of Return.

Of late, they have tried to strip the religious courts of their authority in matters relating to divorce, an authority that dates back to the founding of the state.

Just last month, the High Court intervened in the ruling of the Rabbinical Court in Netanya which sought to prevent a woman from using her infant son as a pawn — refusing to grant him his basic Jewish right to a bris milah — in a battle with her ex-husband.

However, Lapid’s attack is particularly odious, not just because it stems from arrogance, ignorance and contempt for religious Jewry, but because it is politically motivated. With his standing in the polls plummeting, and nothing to show the middle class that voted him into power so that he could provide them with affordable housing, he resorts to bashing the Chief Rabbis.

Any politician who puts self-interest above the need for unity in the country, especially at a time when religious-secular relations are more frayed than ever, isn’t worthy of the voters’ confidence.