U.S., international groups back Stav following harassment of chief rabbi hopeful

JERUSALEM (JTA) – American and international Jewish groups offered their support to Israeli chief rabbi candidate David Stav after he was harassed at a wedding and labeled “a wicked man” by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

In its letter backing Stav, the head of the Tzohar organization in Israel for Modern Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America wrote in Hebrew that it appreciates what Stav has done ”for the good of the people of Israel, the land of Israel and the State of Israel.”

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“We expect to work together with [Stav] for many years to increase the Torah and to glorify it, and to bring hearts closer to our Father in Heaven.”

Tzohar works to involve non-religious couples and their families in religious wedding ceremonies as well as in dialogue on other divisive issues in Israel.

The RCA is an umbrella group for Orthodox rabbis.

Its letter comes a day after Stav was jostled and verbally abused at the Sunday night wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall.

According to reports, a group of haredi Orthodox teens shoved Stav during the celebratory dancing and tried to make him fall. Later, he was attacked verbally by some guests.

On Saturday night, Yosef, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, said in a sermon that electing Stav as a chief rabbi would be like “bringing idolatry into the temple.”

“This man is a danger to Judaism, a danger to the Rabbinate, a danger to Torah – and I should keep silent? They want to make him a chief rabbi? This man unworthy of anything! Can they do such a thing?” Yosef said.

The American Jewish Committee condemned the “shocking assault” on Stav.

“The unprovoked attack on Rabbi Stav by fellow Jews is both painful and inexcusable,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Whatever differences may exist among factions supporting one or another candidate for the post of Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, they should be debated and resolved with civility, not resort to violence.”

“There is no room for such statements in the discourse surrounding the candidates for Chief Rabbi in a democratic state. They jeopardize Israeli society,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The fact that senior rabbis assail Rabbi Stav legitimizes such attacks, which might pose a tangible danger for the rabbi.”

“We call upon the spiritual, political and social leadership in Israel to speak up against such attacks and to take every step possible to promote mutual respect among the various schools of Judaism,” Foxman said.

The International Rabbinic Fellowship, which represents 150 Orthodox rabbis mostly in the United States and Israel, in a statement issued Monday “publicly reaffirms its admiration and affection for Rabbi David Stav.” The group said that Stav “is a scholar and visionary who has devoted his entire adult career to teaching Torah and to bringing all segments of the Israeli populace closer to God and our heritage.”

In a message on his Facebook page posted Sunday night, Stav thanked the public for the “thousands of emails, texts and phone calls I received today from rabbis, community leaders and many of you, to strengthen me and my family in light of the personal attacks against me.”

Stav added that he was “torn by the divisive atmosphere” around the Chief Rabbinate election.

Tzohar in a statement released Sunday said Yosef’s remarks testify to “the urgent need for change across the rabbinate” and said he should “repent and ask forgiveness.”

A date for choosing the next Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis has not been set, though it must take place in the coming weeks.

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