I Do It For The Kavod: Rabbi Paul Yedwab’s Response

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Some 160 rabbis wrote letters confirming the Jewish identity of prospective immigrants who were rejected in 2016. Those rabbis are now on the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s “blacklist” of rabbis they do not trust to confirm Jewish identities of immigrants, according to a JTA story published last week. The Chief Rabbinate’s office countered that “[The list’s] intention was not to invalidate rabbis, God forbid, but rather [to invalidate] letters that raised doubts and questions.” Temple Israel’s Rabbi Paul Yedwab is on that original list.

A stranger moved into a new town and visited the local shul for Shabbos services. He turned to the man in the pew next to him and inquired about the rabbi.

“Oh, our rabbi is a disgrace,” opined the gentleman — a cross between a schlemiel and a schlamazal. “Somehow he manages to be both a mamzer and a nebish at the very same time. And besides, everyone hates his sermons!”

At the oneg Shabbat, the visitor came upon the Sisterhood president who had delivered the congregational announcements at the conclusion of the service. The conversation turned once again to the rabbi. “Oy,” sighed the woman, “if we keep that schmendrik as our rabbi for much longer, the Sisterhood will be out of business. And besides, everybody hates his sermons!”

Undeterred, the potential congregant called the synagogue office on Monday. Once connected, he asked the secretary for an appointment with the rabbi. “The rabbi?” she asked, surprised. “I hope it is not for counseling. Confidentially, I have to tell you that our rabbi could not counsel his way out of a paper bag. And besides, everybody hates his sermons.”

Nonetheless, the appointment was made and when the stranger sat down in the rabbi’s study, he said, “Rabbi, it would seem that your position here is quite … how shall I say … stressful.”

“Oh, yes,” the rabbi responded. “I work 16 hours a day, including spending the entire Shabbos here at shul. I devote myself completely to my congregants and, therefore, I have no family life, no time for hobbies or outside activities and, as a result, my wife is threatening to leave me.”

“So why do you do it?” responded the man, taken aback.

“Oh, that’s easy,” responded the rabbi with a smile. “I do it for the kavod!” (honor and prestige)

Today, having learned that I have earned the “kavod” of being included on the short list of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis blacklisted by the so-called “Chief Rabbinate” of Israel, I am that rabbi.

Why do I schlep hundreds of people to Israel on temple and Federation missions? I do it for the kavod. Why do I rail against BDS and all anti-Israel movements from the bimah? I do it for the kavod. Why do I ardently support AIPAC, JNF, Friends of IDF and so many other pro-Israel organizations? I do it for the kavod. And why have I spent the last three decades of my life serving a congregation built upon the unshakable foundation of Zionism? Clearly, I do it for the kavod.

I am not being entirely facetious here. Since the list appeared, I have received countless emails, Facebook messages and calls from colleagues telling me how jealous they are that they were not included on the list. All I could say to them was, “try harder … maybe next time?” And I am in such good company! The list includes some of the great luminaries of our time, including Detroit’s own late Rabbi Irwin Groner, who seems to have made the list even though he has been deceased for quite some time now. So, yes, I am taking my inclusion on this absurd, surreal, McCarthyisitic “list” as a badge of honor. I am having fun with my 15 minutes of infamy, and I am sure at least one good sermon will come out of it.

I am, however, also very sad — not for myself — but for the State of Israel. Israel has so many enemies, so many detractors, so many who seek her destruction, and their “official” rabbinic leaders are choosing to paint so many “ohavei Yisrael,” so many lovers of Israel, as enemies? It is self-destructive, immoral and lacking in even the most basic understanding of the central Jewish concept of clal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish people.

I could spend the rest of this article ranting and raving about the Israeli government’s lily-livered reversals in the area of the Western Wall and conversion. I could invoke the specter of “sinat chinam,” the “baseless hatred” amongst Jews that is said to have led to the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Instead, however, the Hebrew word that keeps coming to my mind is “mechoar” — this is so very, sadly, disappointingly, tragically ugly.

So no, “Chief Rabbinate” of Israel, your cowardly blackening of my name will not stop me from bringing busloads of loyal congregants to our Jewish homeland; it will not deter me from fighting with all of my heart for Israel’s future; it will not diminish my love of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, in the slightest. Why?

Because clearly … I do it for the kavod!

Paul Yedwab is a rabbi at Temple Israel.
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