Israeli defense minister bans chief rabbi from military ceremonies

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attending a conference in the city of Beit Shemesh, Israel, Jan. 13, 2016. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attending a conference in the city of Beit Shemesh, Israel, Jan. 13, 2016. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) – A meeting between Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi and the Israeli army’s chief rabbi was cancelled after the defense minister banned the chief rabbi from military ceremonies.

On Saturday, Avigdor Liberman banned Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and two other rabbis from the military events after they criticized the Israel Defense Forces mixed-gender units. The meeting scheduled for Monday was canceled a day earlier.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed and a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, said in an interview last week with Army Radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should fire IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot over his decision to allow female soldiers in combat units.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner wrote on the Orthodox news website Kipa in response to a query that it was forbidden to join mixed-gender units, and said it was better to refuse to serve than enter a mixed-gender unit. Aviner is the rabbi of the Beit El settlement and head of the Ateret Cohamin Yeshiva.

Liberman said rabbis who are state employees “must represent the state” and therefore would not be allowed at official events until they withdraw their comments, The Times of Israel reported.

“They are state employees who, among other things, receive a salary from taxpayers,” he also said.

Eliyahu’s office reportedly threatened to file a lawsuit against Liberman unless he rescinds the order.

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