The Sunken Synagogue
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Thursday, October 26, 2006
Rav Ovadia Yosef Opines on the Presidency

Israel is looking for a new president. A number of possibilities have been put forward, including the enigmatic Shimon Peres, the esteemed Elie Wiesel (who, like Albert Einstein when he was suggested for the role, doesn't actually live in Israel), former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

The latter hasn't been enthusiastic about running to begin with, and the following news isn't going to help any:

Arutz 7 reports:

Rabbi Yosef Opposes Having a Hareidi President

Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is quoted in the weekly hareidi-Orthodox Mishpacha magazine expressing his opposition to a member of the hareidi community serving as president.

The statement in directed at the candidacy of Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a popular presidential candidate.

Rabbi Yosef, the Shas Party spiritual leader, stated that the presidency is no place for a hareidi Jew, explaining that while “we try to influence the Jewish character of the state,” there is no place at the secular ceremonies and the like.

The statement will make it difficult for any of the hareidi parties to support Rabbi Lau’s bid, including UTJ and Shas.

The political world is a sort of Twilight Zone, where people say the opposite of what they mean, logic is suspended, and the best of men become corrupted. As the Rav says, there are plenty of presidential functions that fall outside the scope of religion, and may even be hostile to it, that a Haredi conscience would feel better avoiding. And imagine the fallout were a Haredi to advance so far, only to become the envy of Putin, like poor Moshe Katsav.

Haredim—and everyone, really—would be wise to be engage in politics as little as possible.

Given the Rav's reasoning, then, I wonder what he thinks of Jerusalem's Mayor Lupolianski, who attends not only secular ceremonies, but Muslim ones as well. My guess is that the offenses here are excusable because the office in question actually offers a fair amount of power, unlike the purely ceremonial presidency. Some might call this hypocrisy, but I think it's a rational calculation of the type that people make all the time. For the mayorship, the pros outweigh the cons; for the presidency they don't. What do you think?


Cosmic X has a different kasha on this report: Rav Ovadia Yosef himself served as Chief Rabbi, and must have also had to attend secular ceremonies. I can only speculate as to why this was acceptable to him:

Maybe the secular events obligating a chief rabbi are fewer and of a different nature than those a president has to attend.

Maybe a chief rabbi has more leeway in choosing what to attend and what not to.

Maybe he felt that the benefits of the position outweighed the costs. Unlike the presidency, the chief rabbinate actually has some power to affect issues that Haredim care about. He wouldn't want non-Haredim making decisions on conversions and kashrut if he could help it.

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Maybe he knows that being President of Israel could be his political and religious death.
It's possible, but why is that position different than mayor or chief rabbi?

Nice to see your site back up, BTW!
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