November 21, 2018

On Thursday, the Rabbi Was Arrested

I learned of the sudden arrest of Rabbi Dubi Haiyun via a phone call very early on July 19. “Did you hear the news?” the caller asked. “Why would I hear any news at 6:30 in the morning?” I replied. “Well,” the caller said, “your rabbi was arrested.”

I have no rabbi. From childhood, I have been suspicious of rabbis. I don’t dislike them — some of my best friends have the failing of being rabbis. But I never have considered anyone to be “my” rabbi.

So I said, “I have no rabbi.” And the caller said, “You know what I mean.” And I said, “No, I don’t what you mean.” So the caller got impatient. “Rabbi Haiyun,” he said. So I asked: “Rabbi Haiyun from Haifa? But he is supposed to speak today at the event at the president’s house!” Then I realized: It was, indeed, my rabbi — one of the rabbis I invited to speak at President Reuven Rivlin’s annual Tisha b’Av event. There was an Orthodox rabbi, a Reform rabbi, a Hebrew University professor and a Conservative rabbi — Rabbi Haiyun.

He was “arrested” (technically, detained for questioning) after a complaint by the rabbinate. The essence of this complaint was ridiculous: that Haiyun illegally officiates marriage ceremonies. The action taken by the police after the complaint — detaining the rabbi at 5:30 a.m. rather than asking him to schedule a time for questioning — was outrageous. Everybody knows that dozens of Conservative, Reform and, for that matter, unlicensed Orthodox rabbis officiate at unofficial, unrecognized-by-the-state weddings. In fact, there are celebrities who officiate such ceremonies — others who are even high-ranking politicians. Everybody knows that thousands of Israelis have such ceremonies every year, and that tens of thousands of Israelis are guests at such ceremonies. Never — not once — has anyone been detained because of it.

I was on the phone all morning, trying to ascertain whether Haiyun would make it to the event. I was relieved to discover he would be coming, and later pleased to see him embraced by the other participants, from the president on down. He heard calming words from outgoing head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, and from incoming head of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog. He shook hands with all of the other speakers, including the formidable Orthodox rabbi on the panel, Yaakov Medan. He was cheered when he ended his presentation, which was illuminating, but I suspected the cheers were for other reasons.

The rabbi’s detention was problematic, infuriating. The aftermath of the detention was calming, reassuring.

So it was a bittersweet day. On the one hand, something preposterous had happened. On the other hand, the reaction was quick and decisive: public condemnation, wide support and, most importantly, a note of clarification from the attorney general, that there will be no further investigation until and unless there is clear suspicion of criminal action.

There is often a part of the story that observers neglect to mention or take into account when instances such as this occur. “These are the actions of Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, wrote. That Haiyun, awoken in the early hours, was angry enough to compare Israel to Iran (reportedly in a Facebook post) that morning is understandable. But other observers would be wise to refrain from such comparisons because they are only half true: Iran might drag the rabbi out of bed, but would it also host him at the president’s home on the same day? Would it also halt the investigation hours after the rabbi was detained ?

Israel isn’t perfect but it is no Iran. The rabbi’s detention was problematic, infuriating. The aftermath of the detention was calming, reassuring. No — Israel didn’t rewrite its laws of marriage and divorce. There are many Israelis and non-Israelis who believe that such change is essential, but that is a matter for another day. No – Israel hasn’t yet figured a proper way to navigate the complicated world of many Jewish streams. That is also a matter for another day. No — Israel didn’t dismantle the falling-down castle of the rabbinate. It might do it some day. Or maybe — that’s what I believe is going to happen — the rabbinate will become obsolete by its own actions.

Don’t let the idiotic detention of a rabbi fool you. Don’t make the excessive decision of a local police more than it is. It was bad enough without overhyping it. That is to say: Being outraged is sometimes necessary. But moving on is also a useful quality.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.