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A Jewish Response to the Rabbis Defending former Israeli President Moshe Katsav

On December 30, 2010, a three-judge panel unanimously found former Israeli President Moshe Katsav guilty of “rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, harassing a witness and obstruction of justice.”

Indeed, Mr. Katsav’s many offenses directly hurt not only the citizens he assaulted and demeaned, but, as a leading representative of the state, his actions harmed the government and people of Israel, whose principles, trust, and international image he egregiously violated. Against this shocking and depressing reality, however, the Israeli courts and the media restored a measure of dignity and hope by doggedly pursuing justice and fearlessly speaking truth to power.

Instead of being appalled by Mr. Katsav’s actions and expressing sympathy for his victims, a group of his political supporters comprised of dozens of community rabbis, heads of yeshivot, and other religious educators rushed to his defense following his conviction.

Today, I signed onto this letter by an international group of Rabbis and Jewish religious leaders which opposes the ridiculous and religiously indefensible letter by a small group of Israeli rabbis to support Mr. Katsav.  I – and we – affirm our Jewish commitment and support for women’s rights in Israel and around the world.  I thank Rabbis for Human Rights – North America for organizing this response.

Raping Our Faith, Assaulting Our Society: A Jewish Response to the Rabbis Defending Katsav 

As rabbis and other Jewish leaders, we agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said that the conviction of former President Moshe Katsav for rape and other crimes was a “sad day for Israel,” but one which showed that in Israel “all are equal before the law, and that every woman has exclusive rights to her body.”

As rabbis and religious leaders ourselves, we are horrified that dozens of Israeli community rabbis, heads of yeshivot, and other Jewish educators came to the defense of Mr. Katsav following his conviction. In a public letter to the former president, these leading Israeli rabbis slammed the “poisonous media,” urged Mr. Katsav to “be strong and continue to insist on the truth uncompromisingly” and closed their letter by saying “Respectfully yours and with deep appreciation as before.”

We find this rabbinical defense of a violent criminal to be shocking. It is shameful that these religious leaders staked their position in the name of Zionism and Judaism. To speak in this manner, as rabbis, is a hillul haShem, leading to a public denigration of Torah and Jewish tradition. Underlying their letter is a total disregard for the Israeli system of justice, a dismissal of a serious investigation, a willful rejection of a fair and careful trial process.

It may be that the rabbis who rallied to Mr. Katsav’s support have high regard for some of his positive accomplishments. But he has no claim to honor, certainly not to rabbinic praise. “Who is honored?” our tradition teaches, “The one who honors other human beings.” (Pirke Avot 4:1)

We stand united in our support for women’s rights in Israel and around the world. As we learn from the Torah, both male and female were created in the divine image, b’tzelem elohim (Genesis 1:27). It is this shared human expression of the divine image that is both the foundation of equality of all gender expressions and of the Jewish understanding of human rights.

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