Rabbi Lau for President

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Move over, Hillary. You have some steep competition.

Hillary and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau are both unannounced candidates for the office of President of their respective countries. About four weeks ago, Ehud Olmet announced that the former Chief Rabbi (and present Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv) Yisrael Meir Lau was his choice for President, upon the expiration of the term of President Moshe Katzav. He has not yet agreed to run, but polls show him trouncing all other announced and unannounced candidates by margins larger than anything Hillary could hope for.

I understand why, having observed him at his best. I ‘ve just returned from Yerushalayim, where I accompanied a group of leaders of the Presbyterian church who are friends of Israel, and leading the battle this week in Birmingham, Alabama to rescind the misguided resolution of their denomination to divest pension funds from Israel. They traveled to Israel to arm themselves with the facts, and spoke with both Jews and Palestinians. A visit to Rabbi Lau’s apartment was one of the high points of the mission.

It is clear that he loves people, and that people love him. His smile and his enthusiasm don’t let up. He has enough genuine warmth for people that all kinds of Israelis feel comfortable in his presence. (I asked Simcha, our decidedly non-Orthodox bus driver who sported a silver pony tail what he thought of Rabbi Lau. His eyes lit up. “I knew him before he ever became Chief Rabbi. He offered a talk on the parsha/ weekly Torah reading each week. It was unthinkable that I would let a week pass without listening to Rabbi Lau.”)

I introduced Rabbi Lau with an anecdote about the time the Egyptian ambassador suffered a heart attack. Rabbi Lau rushed to Tel Hashomer, where the ambassador’s wife actively sought his blessing, and urged him to her husband’s bedside. As luck would have it, the ambassador regained consciousness just in time to see a very rabbinic visage looking down upon him, and must have thought that he had died and gone to the wrong place! That encounter directly led to an invitation by Hosni Mubarak to visit Egypt, where Rabbi Lau became probably the first Jew to step into Al-Azhar University for a visit with Sheikh Tantawi. (The Arab press depicted the meeting in a cartoon as the meeting between two pigs.)

Rabbi Lau instantly grasped the theological space occupied by his Presbyterian guests, and understood that their approach – coming from a very liberal denomination – was in many ways the polar opposite of the evangelical Christians who are the more frequent pro-Jewish visitors. He related a marvelous Torah thought.

“People ask me whether I really believe in the great prophecy that the wolf will lie with the lamb. Can it really be? I tell them that I have no trouble at all believing in it, because it has already happened! When challenged for my source, I respond that Noah’s Ark hosted both wolves and lambs, who conducted themselves harmoniously. Having happened once, it should be no problem to happen again.

“Of course it can be objected that the ancient wolf and lamb had no choice but to coexist peaceably, in order to survive the common enemy of the Flood that raged outside. But this is precisely my point. They are only animals; we are humans, formed in the Divine image. If they set aside their differences to resist the immediate threat to life, then we as humans ought to be able to suspend our own animosities to fight the common enemies of hunger, deprivation, AIDS, abuse, and environmental hazards!”

Our Presbyterian guests were delighted to see Scripture turned to such clever advantage, especially to support values that resonated deeply.

The Jews who accompanied them were proud to showcase the wisdom of Torah, and of those who spend their days pursuing her truth.

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22 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Hillel, about your comment of 9:08 am today,

    Unless you’re being charged by the word, you should refer to all the named rabbonim as Rabbi or Rav according to your preference and not leave Rabbi Norman Lamm title-less as you did.

    A small price to pay for civil discourse.

    By the way, what are your distinctions between Rabbi and Rav, and between OBM and ZT”L in this comment?

    Are you calibrating people’s names for polemical purposes? Should we be impressed with your nuances?

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Re: Nachum vs. Nochum

    Is it too late for an Ashkenazic, maybe an Ashkenazic/Hungarian/Polish/Lithuanian Liberation Front to defend our right to diversity in pronunciation?

    I recently heard a Teimani chant the Haftarah in our shul according to his native accent and trop, and he pronounced the cholom as a tzeire just as a proper Litvak would. Go figure.

  3. HILLEL says:

    Nachum:

    I’m sorry, but I do not share your admiration for Norman Lamm. He is what is known as a ShaNa Uporush-nik. I personally heard him dismiss a Psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L, in a deprecating manner.

    Lamm is a former talmid of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and a son-in-law of Rabbi Baumol, who was a talmid of Rav Meir Shapiro, founder of DAf-Yomi and head of the famous Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Poland.

    When Lamm took the position of assistant to Rabbi Leo Jung, OBM, in the world-famous Jewish Center in Manhattan, he abandoned his traditional Orthodox Yeshiva upbringing in favor of the trendy Modern Orthodoxy that was practiced there. The ambitious and talented Lamm was dazzled by the wealth and “decorum” that was so characteristic of that famous synagogue. It turned his head.

    One measure of Lamm’s journey from Hareidi to super-MO is that when Lamm arrived in The Jewish Center, he thought that Rabbi Jung was too “liberal.” By the time Lamm left The Jewish Center to take the post of President of Yeshiva Universtity, he had decided that Rabbi Jung was too “conservative.”

  4. Nachum Lamm says:

    Touche, ja. The Tanach spells it with a patach. And yes, I happen to believe that the use of “Nochum” is a significant reflection of certain issues facing the Jewish people today. I’ve even seen references to “Parshas Sazria”, as if there’s some deep-rooted fear that to use a patach or a taf, even where warranted, would leave one open to being called a Zionist (horrors!). I suppose “Ovrohom” is next.

  5. ja says:

    “It’s how I spell it, and, what’s more (not that it should matter), it’s how the Tanach spells it.”

    I didn’t know the tanach spells in english:) (I agree with Nachum btw)

  6. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Bob,

    I see your point now.

  7. Nachum says:

    Thank you, Leonard. I should just point out that I am not a rabbi; I just happen to share both a first and last name with R’ Lamm, who I greatly admire.

    Hillel, you don’t know what God wants. He will do as He will do, and will be perfectly righteous in all He does. We are left as Rachmanim, Bayshanim, and Gomlei Chassadim.

  8. HILLEL says:

    To Leonard Oberstein:

    The issue of Torah law vs. “compassion for sinners has been very well covered by Rabbi Dr. Emanuel Jacobovits, O.B.M., former Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. Herewith his thoughts on the subject, using abortion as an example:

    http://www.jewsformorality.org/r_jakobovits_on_abortion.htm

    The “Cruelty” of the Abortion Laws

    At the outset, it is essential, in order to arrive at an objective judgment, to disabuse one’s mind of the often one-sided, if not grossly partisan, arguments in the popular (and sometimes medical) presentations of the issues involved. A hue and cry is raised about the “cruelty” of restrictive abortion laws. Harrowing scenes are depicted, in the most lurid colors, of girls and married women selling their honor and their fortunes, exposing themselves to mayhem and death at the hands of some greedy and ill-qualified abortionist in a dark, unhygienic back-alley, and facing the prospect of being hunted and haunted like criminals for the rest of their lives- all because safe, honorable, and reasonably-priced methods to achieve the same ends are or were, barred from hospitals and licensed physicians’ offices by “barbaric” statutes.

    Equally distressing are the accounts and pictures of pitifully deformed children born because “antiquated” abortion laws did not permit us to forestall their and their parents’ misfortune. And then there are, of course, always heart-strings or sympathy to be pulled by the sight of “unwanted” children taxing the patience and resources of parents already “burdened” with too large a brood, not to mention the embarrassing encumbrance of children “accidentally” born to unwed girls.

    There is, inevitably, some element of cruelty in most laws. For a person who has spent his last cent before the tax-bill arrives, the income tax laws are unquestionably “cruel”; and to a man passionately in love with a married woman the adultery laws must appear “barbaric.” Even more universally “harsh” are the military draft regulations which expose young men to acute danger and their families to great anguish and hardship.

    Moral Standards in Society

    All these resultant “cruelties” are surely no valid reason for changing those laws. No civilized society could survive without laws which occasionally spell some suffering for individuals. Nor can any public moral standards be maintained without strictly enforced regulations calling for extreme restraints and sacrifices in some cases. If the criterion for the legitimacy of laws were to be the complete absence of “cruel” effects, we should abolish or drastically liberalize not only our abortion laws, but our statutes on marriage, narcotics, homosexuality, suicide, euthanasia, and numerous other laws which inevitably result in personal anguish from time to time.

  9. leonard oberstein says:

    I want to second Rabbi N. Lamm. He is speaking sense and is being”beaten up” by people who are so fanatic they can’t feel sorry for a dying person. Homosexuality is a reality and there are many closeted homosexuals even in the frum community. One wonders why some people are so full of rage about AIDS. It is a death sentance and many who get it are partners of closeted homosexuals or blood transfusion recipients .
    Orthodox Judaism does not require one to be a close minded fanatic who hates aids patients, all Arabs, and eventually even all goyim ,etc.
    A blog should not attract only bigots, it is not representative of the Jewish community as a whole.

  10. HILLEL says:

    Nochum:

    since you requested a more up-to-date report on the role of unbridled sexual promiscuity in the out-of-control AIDS epidemic in Africa, here it is: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2006/06/13/2003313337

    Why Western media hide the truth

    European media are too scared to speak out about injustices in Africa because of political correctness, filmmaker Sorious Samura says
    By David Smith
    THE OBSERVER , LONDON
    Tuesday, Jun 13, 2006,Page 9

    Advertising Sorious Samura says he did it because he could. The television journalist’s documentary, Living with AIDS, broke an almighty taboo by scrutinizing male sexual promiscuity as a cause of Africa’s HIV epidemic, and last week earned him Broadcaster of the Year at the One World Media Awards in London. No white person, Samura says, would have dared.

    “The things I said in Living with AIDS about the African male’s sexuality are things that no white journalist can say,” he muses, relaxing over a drink at a pub in Clapham, south London.

    “There are honest things that the Western media ought and need to say about Africa but political correctness has prevented them. If you’re black and you’re wrong, it should be said. That’s the advantage that I have, because now I can say things that they can’t because they don’t want to be labelled racist or have people saying: `Who the hell are they? It’s neo-colonialism. They’re coming to tell us what to do, where to go,'” he said.

    In Living with AIDS, broadcast last year, Samura confronted Zambian men who said they could see no point in wearing a condom once they had HIV.

    In an interview at the time, Samura described a culture of sexual recklessness internalized in childhood and cited his own experience growing up in Sierra Leone, where he became sexually active at the age of seven and had unprotected intercourse with multiple partners…

  11. HILLEL says:

    Nachum:

    Those of us Jewish conservatives who truly wish to conserve our Jewish traditions accept the principle of “Schar VeOnesh”–that G-D punishes those who transgress his laws.

    It is very clear from the Torah that G-D considers homosexual behavior a grave sin, an “Abomination.”

    Therefore, it is very logical that G-D should mete-out punishment to those who engage in this abomination.

    “TeyasRech RaAsech,”–The evil act itself will bring the punishment upon you,” says the prophet.

  12. Nachum says:

    First, Hillel, it’s Nachum. It’s how I spell it, and, what’s more (not that it should matter), it’s how the Tanach spells it.

    Secondly, that’s disgusting. Millions of people are dying in Africa, the vast majority of them decidedly hetereosexual, and you cite a study from twenty years ago about gay men?

    Third, even if it was only gay men, it would still be disgusting. If a disease were to strike only those who ate neveilos (as, indeed, has happened, in a way), would you say they deserved it too?

    Actually, please don’t answer that.

    Finally, don’t go tarring me as a liberal. I’m certain I’m far, far more politcally and culturally conservative than you.

  13. HILLEL says:

    To Nochum:

    Here is some straight-talk from a prominent AIDS researcher on the AIDS situation in Africa.

    AIDS in Africa: distinguishing fact and fiction
    By Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos (1), Valendar F.Turner (2), John M. Papadimitriou (3), and Harvey Bialy (4)
    World Journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology, 11, pp. 135-143, 1995 Review

    …In 1986, Gallo and his colleagues wrote , “We found no evidence that other [than receptive anal intercourse] forms of sexual activity, contribute to the risk” of HIV seroconversion (Stevens et al 1986). In the West, the largest (thousands of cases) and most judiciously conducted prospective epidemiological studies such as the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (Kingsley et al 1987) have proven beyond all reasonable doubt that in gay men the only significant sexual act related to becoming HIV antibody positive and progressing to AIDS is receptive anal intercourse.

  14. HILLEL says:

    To Nochum:

    AIDS is a political disease. Although the overwhelming number of AIDS cases re traceable to “lefestyle” choices (read homosexuality and drug use), the secular/atheist elites and their media collaborators keep pretending that “it could happen to any of us.”

    Since most of us get our information from the general media, you (and Rabbi Lau) may be excused for thinking that it is “uncompassionate” to point a finger at AIDS patients and note that, if they hadn’t engaged in their abominable acts, they wouldn’t have gotten the disease.

  15. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding Baruch Horowitz’ comment today at 12:04 am,

    In other circumstances, Rav Lau’s potential to start a national dialogue among the religious and secular groups might be reason enough for him to serve as President. However, PM Olmert may be cynically looking to put a happy face on the current government and its suicidal policies, corruption, and incompetence. If so, it might be better for Rav Lau to decline such an invitation. As an outsider, the Rav could be freer to speak out candidly.

  16. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “What could Rav Lau actually do to improve the sorry governance of Israel from this figurehead position?”

    Perhaps in that position, he would more easily be able to reach out to secular Jews, precisely because his position would be only that of a figurehead. It seems that he already has been able to accomplish this, as seen from Simcha, the bus driver.

  17. leonard oberstein says:

    It would be wonderful if Rabbi Lau were elected President. He is a child survivor of the Holocaust, beloved by all .His symbolic leadership would help heal the rifts in Israeli society. I have met him several times and am always amazed that he remembers my name, even though he meets so many people. He is a great politician . After all this though, I would be surprized if he were actually elected. Time will tell.

  18. Nachum Lamm says:

    Hillel, I shouldn’t have to say this, because anyone dying of AIDS, including a homosexual, is a suffering Tzelem Elokim, but millions of people in Africa who are part of no lobby (perhaps unfortunately) and (again, I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I’ll approach it on your level) who aren’t homosexuals, are suffering and dying of AIDS. Jewish people are Rachmanim. So much so that when the Givonim failed to demonstrate the right amount of Rachmanut, they were written out of the Jewish people. So have some, please.

  19. HILLEL says:

    Oi-Vey! Rabbi Lau sounds like such a nice person. Why did he have to demean himself by pandering to the “AIDS” (Homosexual) lobby.

    I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt: “Father forgive him, for he knows not what he’s saying.”

  20. Banim Zcharim says:

    Nice article, Rav Adlerstein!

  21. Nachum says:

    I’m afraid that people who would question a prophecy in Isaiah would also question the historicity of the Flood. And, of course, most Jewish commentators agree that the prophecy is not at all meant to be taken literally. Still, a nice thought, and nice that he understands diverse audeiences.

  22. Bob Miller says:

    Any President of the USA has far more impact on Israel’s policies than any President of Israel. Could this change with Rav Lau as President of Israel? What could Rav Lau actually do to improve the sorry governance of Israel from this figurehead position?