Recent weeks have seen an aggressive campaign for former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau for president. Not a day goes by without an article about his candidacy, as if there were no other appropriate candidate in the whole country for the job.
Even if not all the articles are positive, the attention paid to the rabbi's candidacy raises the value of the nomination. He's got a whole lobby organized, comprised mostly of the country's influential people, folks who take his nomination out of the realm of being a nominee of just the religious parties and give him a wider stamp of approval.
It almost looks as if there are no other appropriate candidates for the job, which is exactly what he wanted.
The easy-going, soft-spoken rabbi loves is a media favorite. For years he has conducted a romance with the media, and has managed to portray himself as a progressive, enlightened rabbi. And therein lies the problem: There is just no substance to this image.
Because Lau's campaign looks more threatening than ever, and all other candidates pale in comparison, let me explain why Rabbi Lau should not be president.
He is not a symbol of the people. Not that I have anything against religious people, quite the opposite. And it's not that I have anything against rabbis; I have great respect for those who treat their positions with seriousness and who are the leaders of their communities.
But despite the fact that Israel's president has no real power – he is still a symbol of the country. The president is supposed to personify the nation. Rabbi Lau simply does not do this.
We are currently engaged in a fight over the character of the Jewish state, about the face of democracy, of public transparency – and to me, Rabbi Lau signifies all the reasons that he will not only fail to lead us to a better future, but he will roll back the clock by generations on us.
The presidency is not just a job. As someone who reached the pinnacle of his public service career as chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau should have retired from public service and started volunteering. But he chose the material world over the spiritual and was appointed chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, a full time job.
I am concerned about the fact that this man's hunger cannot be satiated. He jumps from job to job, instead of viewing each job he does as "the job of his life."
The presidency is more than just another job (2). Israel's president must reflect the image of the Jewish people and must represent the
entirety of it. Even if we speak the same language, Rabbi Lau doesn't even come close to representing me. Not because he's religious, but rather because during all his years of public service, he may have thrown a few sweet words towards the secular community, but he took no brave public steps to resolve the religious-secular conflict or the crisis over Jewish identity.
Rabbi Lau showed no leadership, and never dared clash on a practical level with the sickos in the religious world. He never lifted a finger to resolve issues such as people ineligible for religious Jewish marriages (such as divorcees wanting to marry cohanim, or descendants of the biblical Aaron), "chained" women, those women whose ex-husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce (thus preventing them from remarrying), the nature of Shabbat, civil marriage, or accepting non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
He never advanced inter-religious dialogue, or the rest of a long list of issues that require solutions on the most basic level. Rather, he served as yet another voice in the religious choir barricading itself in to its radical positions.
Easy money. Rabbi Lau is not corrupt, but he has taken (apparently not insignificant) payment for officiating at weddings. This makes me, and many others, sick. As part of some research I conducted for the Tzohar organization – a group of rabbis that conduct weddings free of charge – I found that most people feel rabbis should not charge for performing weddings because it is a mitzvah to do so.
A man who chose to take (a lot of) money for private religious services that he performed in his official capacity of his public role – should be disqualified, in my opinion.
Obsessive image. As someone who has had the opportunity to meet Rabbi Lau on several occasions, I am troubled by the fact that this man attaches great importance to image over substance.
When I was a media advisor to a government minister, I worked with the rabbi on several projects. I was disgusted to discover his passion and his unending concern with public relations. I would expect the president of this country to have the ability to see the substance of the issues, not just run after the photo ops with Sderot residents in order to get his picture in the next morning's paper.
The presidency should not be a reward for failed politicians. Rather, the position should be reserved for "philosophers." The job requires someone with the ability to view reality free of political or business ambition. It should be a person with no responsibilities to any political, social or ethnic camp.
The president should feel subservient to the people, a man of great spirit. The fact that someone is called "rabbi" does not make him such a person.
I would happily support Rabbi Lau for president if he'd displayed any sort of courage or taken an independent stand even once during his long career of public service. If he'd ever tried to view reality through the eyes of a non-believer, or the eyes of a Diaspora Jew, or if he had at least tried to defend his former colleague, Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, who has been ostracized for publicizing several enlightened views.
Some rabbis really are philosophers. Rabbi Lau is not one of them. He is not right for the job.
Moni Mordechai was a media advisor to the Tzohar organization and Rabbi Michael Melchior when he served as a government minister