Rabbi Avraham Yosef, chief rabbi of Holon, has ruled that children should not be named after wicked people such as the biblical character Nimrod or Herzl, the founder of Zionism. Rabbi Yosef was actually asked about a different issue relating to names, but he inserted this comment into his response.
In the haredi world, many people have acquired their rhetoric and their general knowledge from haredi schools, and their manners from the Yated Ne’eman newspaper. Their argumentativeness is based on zero knowledge. For them, Herzl is a convert from Judaism and Ben-Gurion clipped off the sidelocks of the Yemenite Jews. That’s all. As far as they’re concerned, anyone who is not like them is possibly evil or evil without a doubt.
Nimrod, Zimri, and perhaps Omri are in fact biblical names that observant Jews are not in the habit of using because of the dubious record of these figures, but the addition of Herzl to this list is something new, done to annoy. There are several other names that aren’t recommended, but this list expresses Jewish tradition’s revulsion with evil people, and not the haredi tradition of revulsion with the entire world. (Not to mention the fact that today’s haredim are not in the custom of calling their children – may they multiply – nice names like Aviv, Shai, Ronen, and Tzuriel for fear of being suspected of secularism or religious Zionism.)
Sucking up to listeners
I am unworthy of quarreling with Rabbi Yosef, may he live a good long life, on issues of Jewish law, and I would not waste my time arguing with him on issues of Zionism. My dispute over such comments is not about religion or Jewish law, but is actually connected to manners. Herzl (unlike Balaam, Haman, and Esau) is a rather acceptable name here. In Holon alone, the city in which Rabbi Yosef serves, I found at least twenty adult Jews named Herzl. Millions of other people in the Zionist state esteem Benjamin Ze'ev (Theodor) Herzl and his work and vision. Why insult them just to suck up to your listeners? And anyway, who calls kids Herzl today, or Ben-Gurion or Montefiore, for goodness’ sake?
Rabbi Avraham Yosef (Photo: Yaron Brenner)
But for haredi rabbis, mocking Zionism is part of the accepted text. Rabbi Yosef mentioned “Herzl” as the name of an evil man not because this is Jewish law, but in order to tell his haredi listeners that he’s okay, that they shouldn't think that just because he is a government employee he has become one of those Zionists.
In his capacity as chief rabbi of Holon, Rabbi Yosef participates in municipal and national ceremonies, where he appears in a manner befitting his status. It can be assumed that he was appointed to the position because of family connections, and not just because of his greatness in the Torah. But when he speaks on a haredi radio station, to listeners whose opinion is more important to him than that of the secular and the ignorant, he sucks up to them with a “ruling” and his insulting mention of Herzl.
Posing as members of Neturei KartaThis is a well-known tendency among haredim, including senior haredi figures. They associate with secular society and even somewhat enjoy being part of the outside world. But when they speak in a haredi forum they pose as members of Neturei Karta. They do this in order to eliminate the suspicion that they have become, Heaven forbid, part of the Zionist establishment. It happens to rabbinical court judges and former judges, to rabbis in cities, to ministers, and to others who receive their salary from the Zionist state.
I would be pleased to see the opposite: be haredi in your dealings with the secular, and when you are among other haredim, say things such as, “We should also see the positive things in Zionism,” and “We should appreciate some of the qualities of the secular.” How’s that for an idea?
It isn’t the righteousness of Herzl that is being tested, nor whether Herzl is a worthy name. The real question is what happens when a respected rabbi is named after the patriarch Abraham and does not follow in his path?