Reuven Rivlin: Israeli president should ‘bridge conflicts, not create conflicts’

Will he refer to Reform rabbis as rabbis? We still don’t know.

But Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s front-runner in this week’s presidential election, has signaled recently that should he be elected, his goal will be to embrace non-Orthodox Jewish communities rather than antagonize them.

Rivlin got a boost in the race on Saturday when his main rival, Labor Knesset member Binyamim Ben-Eliezer, ended his campaign due to an emerging corruption scandal. The Knesset will vote Tuesday for the president who will succeed current Shimon Peres and fill a largely ceremonial role as Israel’s head of state.

JTA reported last week that Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker and elder statesman in Likud, called Reform Judaism “idol worship” and “a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism” in a 1989 interview. In 2007, he declined to say whether, as president, he would refer to Reform rabbis by their title.

But in an interview and an Op-Ed this week, Rivlin said that his reputation for reason and tolerance extends to all religious communities.

While he would not tell the Jerusalem Post in an interview Friday whether he would refer to Reform rabbis as rabbis, he said he respects religious leaders regardless of denomination.

“I respect any person chosen to lead his or her community, and God forbid I invalidate him because he is from one stream or another,” he told the Post. “The President’s Office represents all streams and denominations in society. The job of the president is to bridge conflicts, not create conflicts.”

In an Op-Ed in the Times of Israel Sunday, Rivlin wrote that as president, he won’t take positions on government policies. Unlike Peres, who has turned his gaze beyond Israel’s borders in his frequent international travels and encouragement of regional peace, Rivlin focused his Op-Ed on tensions within Israeli society. In that context, he wrote that he would work to give a voice to Israelis of all stripes.

“Society as a whole relies on the president as its agent for the delicate task of reinforcing the seams that hold society together,” Rivlin wrote. “The President’s Residence is where a hand is extended to those who have been traditionally and systemically denied a place at the Israeli campfire.”

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