Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay leveled a blistering attack at the national religious community Tuesday, saying the silence of moderate elements in the Orthodox world have let extremists set the agenda on a range of national issues.
Speaking at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference organized by Basheva, a weekly newspaper aimed at the national religious sector, Gabbay said haredi-leading Zionist rabbis have spoken frequently about social issues including gender, homosexuality, but consistently in a divisive way that often borders on incitement. He added that the rabbis’ push towards religious extremes is often met with silence by the Orthodox community at large.
“When a teacher in a pre-army academy says that the army turns women who serve into ‘non-Jews’ – you are silent. When the same rabbi degrades the LGBT community – and the time has come for you to accept the reality that there are LGBT people in your community as well… you are silent. When a city’s chief rabbi calls for the IDF Chief of Staff to be fired – you are silent.
“When, at a time that women -your daughters – fill Torah study halls, a respected rabbi who has taught thousands of students comes out to talk about women’s’ spiritual and intellectual inferiority, then, too, you are silent,” Gabbay thundered.
Gabbay added that the trend towards extremism is not limited to the religious sphere. The government, he said, has repeatedly pushed divisive, anti-democratic legislation, delegated world Jewry to “second class status” at the Western Wall and accepted systemic corruption “by the ‘correct’ political stream” – meaning the Israeli right, all with the silent approval of many Orthodox Israelis.
“My God, when will you break your silence? When did you forget about the Jewish People (as a cohesive unit)?… As a child in Jerusalem I remember my neighbors. They were members of Bnei Akiva (a modern Orthodox youth group). Boys and girls together, doing activities together, learning in national religious schools together, together with everybody – families from religious families and less religious ones, traditional ones and even – God have mercy – secular ones.
“No more! Moderation is gone. Bnei Akiva is now a group that in many instances separates boys and girls, Haredi-Zionist rabbis encourage gender separation from the moment a child begins kindergarten.”
Gabbay concluded with a call for national unity, saying that the religious Zionist community – and especially the rabbis – could play an important role in repairing national divisions. But he said the effort could only succeed by abandoning an “us and them” approach.
“Just as I believe that Israel must work to create a regional coalition for security, I also believe that the time has come for a domestic cultural coalition to strengthen Israeli society. You, the rabbis, have a central role to play in turning our society into a model one… Take it. You have the ability,” Gabbay said.
By: TPS Staff