Israeli Chief Rabbinate

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RabbinateNeeds Wake-up Call On Anti-Christian Spitting Attacks

By Raphael Ahren

JERUSALEM (Ha'aretz) -The US-based Anti-Defamation League has refused to accept the explanation by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate about its efforts to combat the phenomenon of Ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at Christian clergymen in Jerusalem's Old City. While the Rabbinate asserts the ADL is "misguided' in publicly lashing out at the government institutionfor not doing enough to fight the phenomenon, the ADL is sticking to its assertions.

"We do not believe ourstatement was 'misguided' in the least. On the contrary, we believe the Rabbinate needed a wake-up call on this issue. We believe they have not done enough," ADL chairman Abraham Foxman told Anglo File this week. "They've condemned it before, they've issued all of these statements, but nothing has changed."

The ugly practice came into the spotlight again recently after the Jerusalem Magistrate's court dismissed the indictment of Johannes Martarsiana, an Armenian priesthood student who had punched a Haredi yeshiva student in the face in reaction to being spat upon. The judge's ruling and subsequent news reports mentioned that some Jerusalem Haredim have been spitting at Christians for years.

Following the incident, the New York-based ADL on November 30 sent a letter to the Rabbinate, urging it to "publicly and forcefully denounce the repulsive phenomenon." Foxman also asked the rabbis to "convene a meeting with Haredi rabbinic leaders to take concrete steps to ban the decades old practice and educate these communities about respect for other religions."

After the ADL, which combatsanti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry worldwide, did not receive anyresponse from the Rabbinate for about a week, the organization took the issueto the public. In a press release, the organization repeated its demands andthrew in some indirect criticism at the Rabbinate. "The issue makesheadlines every few years, and promises are made to combat it, but it continuesevery day," the ADL's director of interfaith affairs, Rabbi Eric J.Greenberg, wrote.

This time, the Rabbinate tookup the gauntlet. The following day, director-general Oded Wiener issued astatement expressing "regret that the ADL has issued a call to the Chief Rabbinateof Israelon a particular matter without doing the most basic research on thefacts." Wiener called the ADL'sdemands "misguided" and "particularly ironic" since"no Jewish institution has done more to fight the totally unacceptablephenomenon referred to than the Chief Rabbinate." He asserted, "Whatthe ADL calls on the Chief Rabbinate to denounce has been condemned by theChief Rabbis publicly on more than one occasion." Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger andShlomo Amar also invited the Christian leadership to meet with them to expresstheir "abhorrence" at the spitting and issued "a forceful callto all yeshivot and congregations in the Old Cityto make sure that no errant members of their institutions misguidedly engage insuch practices," he wrote.

Metzger paid "asolidarity visit" to the Christian patriarchs and met with the police andmunicipal authorities to encourage greater law enforcement, he added. Wieneralso wrote that the situation has improved "dramatically" over the lastfew months.

Indeed, several Armenian andOrthodox clergymen told Haaretz that while still prevalent, spitting incidentshave decreased recently.

Wiener stated the newincident acquired "disproportionate attention" because of mediareports. "Had the appropriate inquiries been made, the ADL would have hadthe opportunity to congratulate the Chief Rabbinate for its actions in thisregard rather than issue this misguided statement."

But instead of backpedaling,Foxman told Haaretz it still holds the Rabbinate has not done enough. Foxmanfurther demanded the Rabbinate "needs to institute an educational programof respect, so that there is a greater understanding in the ultra-Orthodoxcommunity of why this conduct is so offensive and inimical to Jewishvalues."

Rabbi David Rosen, aBritish-born honorary advisor on interfaith relations to the Rabbinate, did notaccept the ADL's criticism. "I would be the lastperson to say that everything is perfect and that there's not more to do,"he told Anglo File Wednesday. "But the critique needs to be directedelsewhere. The one place that does not deserve it over this issue is the ChiefRabbinate, which has done more than arguably any other body."

Regarding the demand theRabbinate create an "educational program of respect," Rosen, who alsodirects the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs,said the ADL doesn't understand the nature of the Rabbinate.

"It's not the EducationMinistry, that's the job of the Education Ministry.

But Oded Wiener and myselfare actually on our way to a meeting of the Council of the ReligiousInstitutions of the Holy Land, which involves all the Christianleadership," he said.

"And one of the projectswe're working on is the review of textbooks and to see how people are beingmaybe miseducated or just kept ignorant altogether about one another. So infact the Chief Rabbinate is actually involved in matters of education butobviously it's not the primary responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate.'

The California Courier Online, December 22, 2011

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