Herzog Rebukes Rabbi Schach for Comments on Kibbutzniks

President Chaim Herzog, during his monthly radio chat on Friday, indirectly rebuked Rabbi Eliezer Schach, who last week declared the kibbutz movement outside the Jewish fold because its members do not observe religious practices.

Herzog coupled a forceful defense of the kibbutzim and their contribution to Israel’s defense with a renewed appeal for electoral reform in Israel.

A new electoral system is needed, he said, to replace a failing setup where small religious parties hold the balance of power and exert disproportionate political influence.

The presidents’ remarks incurred the wrath of the strictly Orthodox, although he mentioned no individuals or parties by name.

But the polemic against all non-religious Jews, and kibbutzim in particular, is fresh in the minds of Israelis, and has drawn sharp reactions from other prominent Israelis across the political spectrum.

Schach, the 92-year-old head rabbi of Ponivezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, who is founder and spiritual mentor of both the Degel HaTorah and Shas parties, made his caustic remarks about the kibbutz movement at the Degel convention in Tel Aviv on March 26.

Herzog’s rebuke was countered by Shas Minister of Immigration and Absorption Yitzhak Peretz, who on Sunday accused the president of “polarization” and alienating a large section of the community.

Avraham Ravitz, head of Degel’s two-man Knesset faction, demanded that Herzog resign.

Herzog, whose father was chief rabbi of Ireland, is a former Israel Defense Force general and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

As president, a prestigious but largely ceremonial office in Israel, Herzog normally avoids public commentary on controversial issues.

But he is known to be deeply troubled by divisiveness in Israeli society and the repeated political crises. There have been five governments since he took office seven years ago.

“Those who have never heard the din of battle are prepared to label as traitors those who led the IDF to victory and success during its shining moments,” Herzog said.

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