Safed's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu,
who is running for the position of Israel's
Sephardic chief rabbi, has responded to a letter from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein demanding explanations
for controversial halachic and public statements he had made in the past.
According to Rabbi Eliyahu, his remarks were taken out of context and sometimes even distorted, and so they cannot serve as grounds to disqualify his Chief Rabbinate nomination.
In general, Eliyahu argued, some of the remarks he was asked to explain were "a biased reproduction of different issues which have already been on and off the agenda," some remarks "were never said by me," and others were made in a different context than they were presented.
He added that the public and the media had an interest in quoting him, sometimes in an effort to paint him in a negative light, and therefore "I certainly can't take responsibility for every single thing published allegedly on my behalf."
To some of the exhibits he responded, "I don’t understand what the problem is… Must I, as a rabbi, explain why I am against marriages between Jews and foreigners? Must I explain why I prohibit same-sex marriages? Must I explain why I am in favor of becoming religious?"
As for the claim that he holds a racist worldview, Eliyahu responded: "I love the State of Israel. The sanctity of the land and the sanctity of every man created in the image of God… I see myself committed to respecting different views of the love of the land, respecting my fellowman, respecting government institutions and respecting the foreigner."
He further clarified, "I distinguish between people, Jews and non-Jews, who we are all ordered to respect, and enemies seeking to conspire against us."
Addressing each of the attorney general's questions separately, the rabbi wrote that one of the responses published on the Internet on his behalf was likely attributed to him by mistake, as he had not responded to halachic questions on that website the year the response appeared on it.
As for texts of interviews he gave, he claimed he had been quoted inaccurately in a way which changed the original meaning of what he had said.
He commented on remarks implying that he rejects the Arab sector based on racial motives, stressing that in that case he had simply condemned people for their actions against Israel. "I hope you have no intention of banning a public discourse against those conspiring against the State or encouraging terror," he said to the attorney general.
As for the rabbis' letter
he initiated, which prohibited selling apartments to Arabs, he explained: "I do not reject any person or population based on national affiliation. In simple and direct words I will say that I have nothing against the Arab population or any other population in the country. These words have been made public."
He added, "These things have already been checked in the past both by you and by the former attorney general, who decided – because of the aforementioned – to drop the indictment
filed in 2006…
"The allegations about articles dealing with a prohibition to sell lands to foreigners were examined both by you and by the Supreme Court, and were rejected due to the understanding that a rabbi must rule according to the Halacha."
In general, he noted, "I cannot be expected to act hypocritically or artificially and say things which may sound good among different circles who are trying, through the courts, to achieve what they haven't succeed in doing through democratic means."
Rabbi Eliyahu noted that in many other cases, which were as serious in his opinion, the attorney general did not disqualify a person's nomination – neither Muslim leaders who encouraged terrorism nor public representatives who were suspected and indicted for other serious offenses.
"That’s what happened when the attorney general showed his steadfast standing when there was a fear of change in the land's Jewish identity, and a violation of the sensitive balance between different populations comprising cities and neighborhoods.
"It turns out that maintaining the State's Jewish character is not considered a criminal offense in the attorney general's eyes. We all have a duty to maintain the land's Jewish identity, as well as respect the rights of the minorities living in it."