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“My Father Told Me No”

Aryeh Ehrlich and Shimon Breitkopf

When Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman declared he wouldn’t be running for Ashkenazic chief rabbi in the upcoming elections, there was a collective sigh of disappointment from all sectors of Israeli society. Who else could bridge the widening gaps and reinstate the dignity of the office with such finesse and kavod? But Rav Grossman had his own considerations — his deceased father’s command came first.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

rav grossmanRav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman will not be the next Ashkenazic chief rabbi ofIsrael.

When widely loved Rav Grossman declared he wouldn’t be running for the position of chief rabbi after all, a collective sigh of disappointment from all sectors of Israeli society signaled the final stretch of competitive, fractious negotiations and backroom dealings until the next chief rabbis are elected on July 24.

Along with chareidi support on the 150-member electoral committee for the chief rabbis (the composition of which is still being heatedly negotiated), Rav Grossman would have also received the backing of nonreligious mayors and regional council chairmen who are part of that panel — and, with his across-the-board appeal and uncompromising dignity, he might have restored old-time rabbinic glory and kavod to a position too often seen as a vehicle to cash in political favors and promote personal agendas.

Rav Grossman said it was the esoteric command of his late father, concern for the welfare of the massive education and social network he created, and the ruling of two gedolim that cemented his decision to withdraw from the race, although he revealed to Mishpacha that it was one of the hardest choices he’s ever made.

“I made the decision, but it’s still hard for me to accept,” said the chief rabbi of Migdal Ha’Emek, who in the 1970s became known as the “disco rabbi” for entering pubs on Friday nights, gathering young patrons, and teaching them chassidic songs and Jewish truths. “It would have been an incredible opportunity to spread Yiddishkeit, but I made my decision, and I’m certain I took the right step. I listened to the gedolei Yisrael, and I obeyed my father’s will.”

Rav Grossman, considered a shoo-in for the post, was under heavy pressure to enter the race from rabbanim, political figures, askanim, admirers, and even President Shimon Peres — a surefire way to preserve the honor of the rabbinate. And on the chareidi side, he was the one hope for the chief rabbinate to remain in chareidi hands while not alienating other factions, and was the one candidate who was sure to block the election of national religious Rabbi David Stav, who is considered too centrist for many on the religious right.

His supporters are despondent: Rav Grossman, they say, could have made great strides, not only with respect to kashrus and conversions, but also in bringing many Jews closer to their roots and mending the internal divides within Israeli society at a time when the rifts are so wide and areas of agreement so few and far between.

Rav Grossman announced his decision just a few hours before we spoke; we thought we would be meeting a liberated man who had freed himself from a heavy burden and put closure to an agonizing period of soul-searching. But although there might not be regrets, there are still conflicting thoughts.

“To tell you the truth, I am torn,” says Rav Grossman. “I know that Hashem has given me gifts that I must put it into practice. By me, there are no differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim or chareidim and chilonim. I believe I would have been able to accomplish much, especially in terms of uniting the nation.”


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