Who was Rabbi David Cohen, dean of the Hebron yeshiva in Givat Mordechai, referring to when he mentioned “Reform” elements being introduced into the Chief Rabbinate?

Rabbi Cohen was speaking at a memorial event for Rabbi Ovadya Yosef on his yahrtzeit two weeks ago, and he stressed how although “Rabbi Ovadya was fundamentally and by nature a man of peace, when it was necessary to wage war he was at the very forefront of the battle. He would not compromise on such matters.

“I will always remember what happened in the Chief Rabbinate,” Rabbi Cohen continued. “They wanted to bring in Reform elements – not just Reform-style, but literally Reform. Even though he knew that waging a battle in this instance could potentially harm his son and successor as Chief Rabbi, he would not lend his hand to anything that could be interpreted as meaning that it was permissible to consent to a Reform presence or to work with them.”

Rabbi Cohen concluded his speech without explaining who were the Reform elements to whom he was referring. However, in his weekly Torah pamphlet, Rabbi Yitzhak Levy, the rabbi of the town of Nesher and a member of the Chief Rabbinate, printed the transcript of the weekly Torah class of Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (the son of Rabbi Ovadya), which included an account of some of the speeches made in honor of his father.

Rabbi Levy included some of his own commentary on the speeches, and when it came to the passage in which Rabbi Cohen mentioned the “Reform” who had almost insinuated themselves into the Chief Rabbinate, he wrote, “Here the esteemed rabbi is referring to the ‘deal’ made between D. Stav, with the support of Liberman and Bennett; and also to the ‘deal’ made with Rabbi Stern, with the support of Mr. Bennett, to accord them the position of Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, a rabbi who wrote that a convert was not obligated to accept all the commandments upon himself.”

This was not the first time that Rabbi Cohen had made such sharp criticism of Rabbis Stern and Stav. In 2014, a haredi news site (Kikar Hashabbat) published recordings of Rabbi Cohen attacking these two rabbis during a meeting of members of Degel HaTorah (a haredi-Lithuanian organization).

During that meeting, Rabbi Cohen referred to Rabbi Stav as a “disgusting person” – “the disgusting head of Tzohar, Stav, who wants to be Chief Rabbi.” He also attacked Rabbi Stern, saying, “They took one of the Tzohar rabbis with the same worldview as them and made him the rabbi of Jerusalem. This man, who was never trained as a rabbi and doesn’t even know which way to open a Mishnah Berurah, isn’t ashamed to be chief rabbi of Jerusalem. The first thing he’ll do is to destroy shemittah, and he won’t stop there.”

Responding to Rabbi Levy’s interpretation of Rabbi Cohen’s words was Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana of the Yamina party, who wrote to the country’s two Chief Rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, demanding a “condemnation of this disgrace to the honor of Torah scholars, when Rabbi Stav was referred to without the title ‘rabbi,’ and he and Rabbi Aryeh Stern were called ‘Reform.’

“I call on you to utterly condemn these words and to express this clearly and to stand up for the honor of Torah scholars,” he continued. “We must not tolerate the publication of such disgraceful terms with regard to rabbis and scholars – and this is not the first time that the rabbi of Nesher has been involved in similar incidents,” he added.