Rabbi Riskin Comes Out Fighting

In first public speech since speculation over his position, Rabbi Riskin criticizes Rabbinate's conduct, says it's pushing people away.

Ari Soffer ,

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  speaks at Efrat dinner
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin speaks at Efrat dinner
Gershon Elinson

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has spoken out for the first time since his tenure as Chief Rabbi of the town of Efrat was extended by the chief rabbinate, ending weeks of controversy and rumors he would be dismissed for ideological reasons.

Speaking at a reception of Efrat residents hosted by Mayor Oded Ravivi to mark his continued tenure, Rabbi Riskin criticized the conduct of the Rabbinate throughout the saga, saying he was forced to "rely on reports in the media" for updates, and claiming that the Rabbinate never attempted to reach out to him directly to explain the reason for the unprecedented delay in extending his tenure.

The ordeal began when the Chief Rabbinate decided not to automatically renew Rabbi Riskin’s post - despite his widespread popularity among Efrat residents - and instead chose to delay their decision, claiming that they were examining the merit of extending his 32-year tenure as Efrat’s religious leader. 

"The Rabbis didn’t speak with me at all," said Rabbi Riskin. "From the moment they chose not to automatically extend my tenure, I didn’t receive any indication from any of the members of the Chief Rabbinate whether they intended to renew my position.  Even the rumors that I was to be invited for some sort of hearing turned out to be false."

Responding to claims that some of his Halakhic rulings were deemed problematic or liberal-leaning by some members of the Rabbinate, Rabbi Riskin insisted that his rulings were all "based on accepted Halakhic precedent."

"Even the rulings that some viewed as too far ‘outside the box’ are based on decisions by former Chief Rabbis," he added, accusing his detractors of mixing politics and Jewish law. "This is a debate about differing ideological paths."

Rabbi Riskin also addressed the so-called "Kashrut Law" proposed by the Shas party, which would force all kosher establishments and products to obtain a Kashrut certification from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate - including imported kosher food. Critics say the measure amount to monopolizing the kashrut "industry," and note that it would increase food prices at a time when many Israelis are struggling to make ends meet.

Addressing that concern in particular, Rabbi Riskin told his audience that it is in the interest of the Rabbinate that Kosher food be readily available to as many Jews as possible. 

"The Chief Rabbinate must ensure that Kosher food is accessible to all the Jews in Israel, and that it is done so at the lowest possible cost to the general public. It should be their highest priority that as many Jews as possible eat Kosher," he insisted.

"This is not what is happening right now with the latest decisions," he lamented. "The Rabbinate should be opening its arms in acceptance and limiting divisiveness in Israeli society." 

In his comments, Rabbi Riskin urged the Chief Rabbinate to dedicate itself to a more inclusive outlook on Israeli society and return to the vision for the institution set out by the original Chief Rabbi Kook which was intended to respond to the needs of all the Jewish citizens of Israel.