Rabbi Gil Belizovsky HaCohen, rabbi of the synagogue at Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, denied reports by Channel 10 earlier this month claiming that the synagogue prevented women from participating in the Hanukkah candle ceremonies.
"All of the publications were a well-planned plot that the journalists happily 'fell' into [reporting]," the Rabbi stated, "or perhaps even willingly - all of the reporters and newscasters on the story did not even attempt to approach me about the issue and let me tell my side of the story."
"They even brazenly interviewed other rabbis, specifically so not to let me tell what really happened," he continued. "This is definitely the opposite of the ethical journalism or minimal common sense that you would expect from a democratic society."
The original report, published about 3 weeks ago, quoted a few individual students who claimed that the synagogue was practicing gender discrimination. The students claimed that since male students had been lighting the candles in Hanukkah ceremonies, women had been the subject of a blanket ban on participating in saying the blessing or singing Hanukkah songs.
The report also stated that female students had organized their own lighting ceremony and response, and showed footage allegedly from that ceremony. A professor also spoke about the phenomenon - alongside footage appearing to be from the first day of lighting, but not from other days of the holiday.
University officials allegedly stated that the request for women to participate had been submitted very close to the start of the holiday, and said that future ceremonies would feature equal participation of both genders.
But a later report from Channel 10 showed footage from a lighting ceremony on the last day of the holiday, and alleged that the "exposure" it had given the issue had elicited the change.
The rabbi made clear that the reports not only skew the facts; they also do not have a precedent, due to the role of a synagogue and a rabbi within the university setting. "There is no place for a rabbi to rule according to Jewish law in a non-religious university," the rabbi wrote. "The administration is in charge [of the lighting ceremony] - not me - and I do not tell the university what to do."
The rabbi also pointed out that the Torah and Jewish Law do not forbid women from lighting Hanukkah candles. "When individuals approach me with their personal halakha (Jewish law) questions, I put on the table right away that I give rulings according to my faith, which is the compass which guides me," he explained.
"As such, I stated as written explicitly in the Talmud and the Shulhan Aruh (a comprehensive guide to basic Jewish law - ed.) and other rabbis - I did not tell a single woman not to light Hanukkah candles, Heaven forbid [. . .] I tell them to go by the customs of their family and community."
"If anything, I did the opposite [of gender discrimination]," the rabbi continued. "I handed out about 500 free sets of hanukkiot (candelabras) and candles to students - most of whom were female - to enable them to keep the commandments in the dorms and in their homes."
Rabbi Belizovsky also explained that he and his family conducted lighting ceremonies for students in the dormitories, after students from both genders asked for help in keeping the holiday.
"When, finally, the student union newspaper called me, I asked that they publish in my name that I rule that women are obligated to light the Hanukkah candles," he stated, "and that's what was published."
"I am currently looking into filing a claim against those who twisted the facts," he concluded.