Several Israeli religious leaders have been in the news recently — and not for their piety. Here’s a quick roundup:
• Rabbi Motti Elon is being formally indicted for sexual offenses against two former students, both of whom were minors at the time of the alleged acts, in 2003 and 2005. Meanwhile, in what may either be an ironic twist or perhaps a meeting of the minds, Elon has apparently been teaching classes at the home of former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was recently convicted of rape and other sexual offenses. One cannot help but wonder what lessons they are learning together.
• Israeli police issued an arrest warrant against Kiryat Arba chief Rabbi Dov Lior for incitement because of a book he wrote that apparently advocates the murder of non-Jews. Although his supporters are furious and calling the arrest politically motivated, his detractors say that even this arrest is not enough to stop the perceived increase in racist attitudes in the religious community in Israel. This arrest warrant comes on the heels of such events as the rebbetzins’ anti-Arab dating petition, the rabbis’ anti-Arab renting petition, and the refusal of the Emmanuel religious girls’ school to heed Supreme Court directives and allow Sephardic girls to enroll in their school.
• He may not be a rabbi, but as a leading politician of the religious Shas party, I decided that he can be included in this round-up. Sami Levy, the former Deputy Mayor of Hadera, was arrested two weeks ago for a long list of criminal offenses that include rape, torture and imprisonment of five different women, bribery and misuse of public funds. The judge, Halit Silash, reading through the shocking list of offenses, said she considers it “quite likely that he committed all the offenses he is accused of.” Levy maintains his innocence and is crying conspiracy.
• It deeply pains me to include in this notorious list Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa, who is being indicted on counts of bribery and fraud. According to the indictment, he allegedly signed off on giving advanced degrees to people who had not actually attended the religious institutions they supposedly received degrees from. The police knew about this last year, and cut a deal with Rabbi Cohen to avoid indictment on condition that he step down from his position. Since he has not kept up his end of the bargain — i.e., he’s still chief rabbi — the police are getting tough with him and pursuing the indictment. I would like to say that whether or not he is guilty of fraud in this case, Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen has been one of the most remarkable rabbis this country has seen. He has acted and spoken courageously on behalf of women and other groups, has been at the forefront of urging the rabbinic establishment to demonstrate compassion and flexibility in halachic matters in order to ease human suffering, and is always willing to take unpopular public stands in order to promote moral consciousness. I do not know how this sits with the accusations against him. But no matter what he may or may not have done with falsifying credentials, I think that his overall record of leadership deserves greater recognition. I hope that women’s organizations will publicly acknowledge these actions and support him.