Three Religious Zionism leaders – Ramat's Gan's Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Har Etzion Yeshiva head Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein and Rabbi Dr. Nahum Eliezer Rabinovich, head of the Birkat Moshe Yeshiva in Ma'aleh Adumim – issued a "manifesto" against the letter supporting Katsav, who was convicted of two counts of rape and sexual harassment.
"Without getting into the details of the former president's trial and the punishment he deserves, we view the attempt to question the women who complained and the judges and to cover up the disgrace brought upon the presidency as extremely severe," the rabbis wrote.
"The criminal law system in our country, the State of Israel, is based on Jewish Law, which allows the government system in Israel to enact laws and activate legal proceedings and punishments as required by the public's interest and welfare."
One of the letter's initiators explained why it was written. "The letter in support of Katsav led to a strong feeling of blasphemy and to a complete loss of faith in the Torah on the part of the religious and secular public. The manifesto came from the ground, because the rabbis were infuriated."
According to the initiator, in personal conversations and yeshiva lessons senior rabbis slammed the letter supporting Katsav, using harsh words like "defamation of God" and "scandal".
He added that hundreds of additional rabbis from the entire spectrum of Religious Zionism would have signed the letter, but that the initiators decided to settle for the most senior representatives.
'Rabbis accomplices to crime'
Religious organizations were also shocked by the rabbis' support for Katsav.
"This is absolute disgrace and a defamation of God's name that rabbis, who pretend to speak on behalf of the Torah without any knowledge about the evidence, defend a convicted rapist," said Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Sha'arei Mishpat Academic College, which represented women's groups in a petition against the State's plea bargain with Katsav.
"One should show some empathy towards a sinner, but there is a long way to go before voicing complete support for him."
The Kolech religious women's organization noted that "the Torah refers to rape as murder", adding that "the rabbis who signed the letter should therefore understand that when they defend a convicted rapist they become accomplices to a crime, throwing women, girls and children to the dogs and leading to promiscuity on the part of people with power and authority against their subordinates."
Knesset Member Uri Orbach (National Union) said, "I don't know which facts this letter was based on. It is our duty to stand by the victims, not by the criminals."
'Katsav, be strong'
In a letter sent Wednesday to the former president, dozens of community rabbis, yeshiva heads and educators urged Katsav to "be strong and continue to insist on the truth uncompromisingly".
The letter's signatories included Rabbi Zvi Tau, considered head of the "national" stream within Religious Zionism; Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit El; and Rabbi Moshe Hager, chairman of the association of military preparatory academies.
"To our country's former president, fear not because the truth will come out," the letter began. "And even if it takes it's time, it will be revealed, and all those who pursue lies will be ashamed."
The rabbis blasted the media, implying that the press was one of the factors which led to the trial's "false results".
"All of the people of Zion are sighing and groaning under the burden of the poisonous media, waiting for the return of pureness to our public life and hoping for the day when the injustice will be removed and the truth will come out – and then many, many people will be redeemed and rejoice with you."
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