Exclusive Interview with Krakow's New Chief Rabbi

Rabbi Eliezer Gur-Ari, incumbent Chief Rabbi of Krakow, talks to Arutz Sheva on Jewish life - and anti-Semitism - in Poland.

Nissan Tzur ,

הרב אליעזר גור ארי
הרב אליעזר גור ארי

Representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, European rabbis and Polish leaders will flock to Krakow on Sunday for the coronation ceremony of Rabbi Eliezer Gur-Ari as the city's new Chief Rabbi. 

Gur-Ari lives in Krakow with his wife and four children for eight years and served, until a few months ago, as an emissary of Chabad in the city.

After the previous rabbi of Krakow, Boaz Pash, decided to leave his post and return to Israel, the president of the Jewish community in Krakow, Tadeusz Jakubowicz, decided to appoint Gure-Ari as the new Chief Rabbi - despite the latter's frequent disagreements with Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich.

Shudrich asked to bring Rabbi Avi Baumol from Israel and appoint him the new rabbi of Krakow instead, but community leaders favored Gur-Ari, who was already a well-known Krakow resident. Both Rabbis took the post and for several months they served in parallel positions, as Gur-Ari served as a community Rabbi and  took their positions and over a number of months served two parallel when Gore - Ari served as the rabbi of the community in Baumol served as rabbi of the Jewish Community Center (JCC).

Eventually, however, it was decided that Gur-Ari would become the new Chief Rabbi of Krakow, and he will take the post on Sunday. Gur-Ari spoke to Arutz Sheva this week on his feelings about the new position and his experiences; it is important to note that he is the son of the Chief Rabbi of Holon, while his father-in-law is the Chief Rabbi of the Jordan Valley. 

"I have lived in Krakow for eight years and served as a Chabad representative until today," he said. "Even when there was a Rabbi here, I officiated the most of the functions - weddings, funerals, prayer ceremonies, Torah lessons and more, since the previous Rabbi divided his time between Krakow and Israel."

"After he left, the heads of the community began to contact me, as a local rabbi who lives here with his family," he continued. "There were all sorts of objections by various parties who did not want a Chabad Rabbi taking on an official position, so it took a long time - but eventually it worked out, and the coronation ceremony is on Sunday." 

What are your feelings about getting the role of a rabbi in a large city in Poland, where there was a large Jewish community which became extinct during World War II?

"This is a big responsibility. This is where world leaders issued fatwas to the world," Gur-Ari said. "I need to concern myself now with every Jew who lives or visits here; this is my responsibility now."

"In the community here, there are officially 140 members, but the exact number of Jews who are here number at least 400-500 and thousands of tourists every year visit the city," he said. "They attend synagogue, prayers, use our library, need kosher food, learn Torah lessons, use the mikveh [ritualariam], visit for Jewish holidays and more. And I now am responsible for all Jews living in or visiting Krakow. "

The way you dress very clearly shows that you are a rabbi. Have you been the victim of anti-Semitic remarks?

"Let's say it clearly. Those who are not a Jew - do not like Jews," he says. "Everyone understands and knows it."

"Here in Krakow there is sympathy for the Jews in general, at least outwardly," he continued. "Sometimes I walk down the street and people greet me. Generally there is respect for a Jewish rabbi; but when they get drunk, then suddenly they spew anti-Semitic remarks. Twice people broke into my house, and I guess because there's a rumor that Jews have lots of money, it brought people specifically to my home."