Rabbi Israel Meir Lau
Photo: Erez Erlichman

Lapid never attacked religion

Ex-Shinui chairman stressed that he opposes religious coercion, not Judaism

My familiarity with Yosef (Tommy) Lapid spans over a period of 30 years at least, and ended last Thursday at the oncological department of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center. I sat with him for about an hour. He was very alert, as usual, even though I knew his disease was terminal. I’m certain he too knew this was a farewell conversation.


Exactly 30 years ago, in 1978, I got a call from Tommy, who invited me for an hour-long interview on a show he hosted for Army Radio. For a whole hour we sat in the studio, with Tommy explaining to the young listeners the great importance of familiarity with Jewish matters and the customs we grew up on, as expressed in the new book I wrote. He heard or saw the book, and the initiative to have me on the show was his, rather than some kind of PR man on my behalf. Tommy dedicated a whole hour to this, without any negative criticism.


With regards to his attitude to religion and to the religious, it appears he underwent some kind of change. During the dozens of years where he wrote opinion pieces, and during his three years as an author in London, I never heard him issue even one attack in a religious matter. He used to belong to what we referred to as the “Hungarian mafia,” along side Ephraim Kishon and Kariel Gardosh. The three of them did not receive religious education, but their attitude to the religious and especially to religious Zionists was very sympathetic, and certainly lacking any belligerent tone.


Five years ago, when he served as deputy prime minister and justice minister, Tommy represented the government at the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau. In his speech there he raised the question of God’s presence during the Holocaust. I did not agree with his words and mentioned it to him again in our last meeting Thursday. I did not come to stir controversy, but also did not want to cover up anything. “I replied to you gently but firmly that I disagree with you,” I reminded him.


Victims of the soul

During our meeting at the hospital I quoted the words Job tells his wife: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Tommy smiled. I asked him: When you wake up every morning with a pair of ears and eyes and a pretty big mouth and a talent for talking and writing, do you share with God all the achievements and successes or do you take it for granted? Why does the presence of God bother you and is on your agenda only during a big crisis like the Holocaust? We should not and cannot manage the account books of the Creator.


Tommy always emphasized that he is not against religion or the religious, but rather, rejects religious coercion. Therefore it hurt me a little when he joined the Shinui party and focused on struggling against issues that are dear to the heart of many Jews.


The Holocaust had six million physical victims, but it also had spiritual-religious victims. Not victims of the body, but rather, victims of the soul. People who lost their faith in the wake of the Shoah. It is possible that had there not been a Holocaust, Yosef Lapid’s great talent would have been directed to explaining the values of our people’s eternal Torah.


פרסום ראשון: 06.02.08, 10:21
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