A Case of Mistaken Identity

The Faux Israeli Everyman, Naftali Bennett, Appoints His Extremist Rabbi To Teach Us Judaism

Gershom Gorenberg

My latest at The Daily Beast:

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of religious services, has decided to appoint Rabbi Avihai Ronski to head a brand-new Jewish Identity Administration.

One could simply say, “Ronski is the wrong man for the job.” But there’s a logical flaw in that sentence. The job shouldn’t exist, so no one could be right for it. Furthermore, the post will be in a ministry that only does a disservice to religion. And the fact that Naftali Bennett sees Ronski as his master and teacher provides additional proof that Bennett shouldn’t be minister of anything.

Let’s start with Ronski, who became nationally known as IDF chief rabbi in 2006-2010. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz’s choice of Ronski caused a ripple of controversy, due to a halakhic opinion the rabbi had written years before. An army medic had asked him if it was permitted to treat a captured, wounded terrorist on Shabbat. Ronski said it was, but only for instrumental reasons: to avoid creating anti-Semitism, and to make questioning the captive possible. Challenged at the time by the prominent moderate Orthodox thinker, Yoske Ahituv, Ronski responded that the Sabbath took precedence over a gentile’s life and halakhah over the IDF ethical code.

Less attention was paid to the location of Ronski’s yeshiva: in an illegal outpost built partly on privately owned Palestinian land, as noted in the government-commissioned Sasson Report. As the military commander in occupied territory, Halutz should have been evacuating Ronski, not giving him a position for which integrity was a requirement. No one noticed that Ronski had been one of the founders of Od Yosef Hai, a yeshiva that was established as a settler toehold inside the West Bank city of Nablus and that earned a name as a center of extremism and racism.

Read the rest here.