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Excommunication Edict Draws Smiles

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Israelis suffering through a long hot summer of political tension and economic woes received much needed comic relief this week when the ancient edict of excommunication was invoked by the Chief Rabbinate Council against Aguda bloc MK Shlomo Lorincz for likening Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren to President Idi Amin of Uganda in the course of a Knesset debate.

The excommunication edict and the war of the printing presses it precipitated between the newspapers of the rival Orthodox factions–the National Religious Party’s “Hatzofe” and the Aguda’s “Hamodia”–brought smiles and laughter to the populace.

It was a welcome change from the daily dose of news about stalemated interim negotiations with Egypt, Arab attempts to oust Israel from the UN, confusion and consternation among labor and management over the effects of the new tax reform measures and the rash of wildcat strikes.

While the Orthodox take the matter very seriously, a majority of Israelis have always looked with wry amusement at the feuding and recriminations within the religious establishment. Yet many thoughtful Israelis–religious and secular alike–are saddened by the continuing erosion of the image and authority of the Chief Rabbinate.

The excommunication of Lorincz was described by Maariv as a “comical anachronism.” The Jerusalem Post headlined the story with photographs of Rabbi Goren and Amin. Both men were shown wearing Israeli paratrooper wings. Rabbi Goren won his as Chief Chaplain of the armed forces, and Amin, who once professed undying friendship for Israel, took his paratroop training in this country.

The paratroop wings were the nub of Lorincz’s insult. The Aguda MK accused Rabbi Goren of Amin-like dictatorship in his domination of the Chief Rabbinate Council and appointment of “dayanim”–religious court judges. “Curiously enough, in Kampala (capital of Uganda) there, too, is someone who has got paratroop wings,” Lorincz said.

The Chief Rabbinate Council excommunicated Lorincz yesterday afternoon at a session held under Rabbi Goren’s chairmanship but boycotted–as usual–by its co-chairman, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef whose perpetual quarrels with Rabbi Goren make the news almost as frequently as the daily weather report.

Meanwhile, “Hatzofe” and “Hamodia,” respectively, praised and condemned the excommunication. The Aguda newspaper claimed that even NRP circles found Rabbi Goren a liability and published rumors that he was about to resign. Hatzofe published a letter from Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the NRP’s religious mentor, condemning Lorincz. NRP Secretary-General Zvi Bernstein demanded that Lorincz’s remarks be expunged from the Knesset records.

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