Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger told the gathering, held under the auspices of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) – an organization dedicated to meeting the religious and spiritual needs of communities in Europe – that he was instructed by an Israeli minister to personally request that the rabbis help with Israel’s public relations.
“We would like you to learn how to answer questions about the State of Israel,” Rabbi Metzger told the group, especially relating to the disinformation regarding Operation Cast Lead.
“For eight years we kept quiet and suffered and only then did we attacked,” the chief rabbi continued. ”The IDF sent out many warnings to areas that it needed to attack but Hamas deliberately used residential areas for its military purposes.”
'Absurd situation in terms of conversion'
Rabbi Asher Gold, spokesperson for the RCE, said that the current atmosphere towards Jews in Europe appears to be bound together with attitudes towards Israel.
“Today, it is impossible to untangle the attitude towards Jews with the ambivalence directed at Israel in parts of the European continent,” Gold said.
The meeting, which took place at the Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter, was an opportunity for the top rabbis in Europe to meet and discuss issues of importance with their counterparts in Israel.
Special discussion at Western Wall tunnels (Photo: Berale Sheiner, Rabbinical Centre of Europe)
Minister of Religious Affairs Yaakov Margi spoke of the issues surrounding proposed conversion and marriage laws that are currently being debated in the Knesset.
“The Conversion Law is intended to bypass the Beth Din (religious court) and the Chief Rabbinate,” Margi said. “Today, there is an absurd situation where anybody except the Chief Rabbinate can give conversions.”
Margi also posed the question of who has an easier time, rabbis in Israel or in Europe. “In the Diaspora, no one interferes in rabbis decisions on matters of religion, here, in Israel, there are endless battles,” he continued.
Major challenges facing Rabbinate
Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, the former chief rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem and noted author, also spoke about some of the major current challenges facing the Rabbinate.
“There are two current major challenges factors working against rabbis,” Rabbi Nebenzahl said. “The first is that today the (secular) courts decide everything, what is and what is not kosher, and everything else.”
“The second is that there are rabbis who make defective conversions. Rabbis of Europe have to be vigilant not to bring those into the People of Israel who do not belong.”
The last meeting of this kind, held under the RCE, was in London earlier this year. Rabbis gather in a different European capital each time. This time the meeting was held in Jerusalem to mark a decade since the founding of the Rabbinical Center of Europe.
Other issues that were on the agenda were; the growing missionary threat in various countries in Europe, especially where there is a large concentration of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the growing menace of anti-Semitism in Europe and the issue of whether to allow the sale of Synagogues in places where there is no longer a Jewish community.
During the event, a book of halachic responsa was distributed, involving the decisions of over 60 rabbis from all over Europe.