Yisrael Meir Lau

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Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
ישראל מאיר לאו
Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv
Chairman of Yad Vashem
הרב לאו.JPG
Other former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel
Personal details
Birth name Yisrael Meir Lau
Born (1937-06-01) 1 June 1937 (age 77)
Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland
Nationality Israeli
Denomination Orthodox
Residence Tel Aviv
Parents Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau
Children Moshe Chaim
David
Tzvi Yehuda
5 girls

Yisrael (Israel) Meir Lau (Hebrew: ישראל מאיר לאו‎; born 1 June 1937 Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland) is an Israeli and the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Israel, and Chairman of Yad Vashem. He previously served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1993 to 2003.

Biography[edit]

Yisrael Meir Lau (8 years old) in the arms of Elazar Schiff, Buchenwald survivors at their arrival at Haifa on 15 July 1945.

Lau was born on 1 June 1937, in the Polish town of Piotrków Trybunalski. His father, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, was the last Chief Rabbi of the town; he died in the Treblinka extermination camp. Yisrael Meir is the 38th generation in an unbroken family chain of rabbis.[1]

Lau was freed from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, after Rabbi Herschel Schacter detected him hiding under a heap of corpses when the camp was liberated.[2] Lau has credited a teen prisoner with protecting him in the camp (later determined by historian Kenneth Waltzer to be Fyodor Michajlitschenko).[3] His entire family was murdered, with the exception of his older brother, Naphtali Lau-Lavie, his half brother, Yehoshua Lau-Hager, and his uncle already living in Mandate Palestine.

Lau immigrated to Mandate Palestine with his brother Naphtali in July 1945, where he studied in the famous yeshiva Kol Torah under Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[4] as well as in Ponevezh and Knesses Chizkiyahu. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1961. He married the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchok Yedidya Frankel, the Rabbi of South Tel Aviv.[1] He served as Chief Rabbi in Netanya (1978–1988), and at that time developed his reputation as a popular orator.

Lau is the father of three sons and five daughters. His eldest son, Moshe Chaim, took his place as Rabbi in Netanya in 1989; his son David became the Chief Rabbi of Modi'in, and later Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel; and his youngest, Tzvi Yehuda, is the Rabbi of North Tel Aviv.[1] Lau is the uncle of Rabbi Binyamin (Benny) Lau, an educator and activist in the Religious Zionist movement, and Amichai Lau-Lavie, the founder and artistic director of the Jewish ritual theater company Storahtelling.

In 2008, Lau was appointed Chairman of Yad Vashem, succeeding Tommy Lapid.

Rabbinical career[edit]

Rabbi Lau addresses
the United Nations

On 9 June 2005, Lau was reinstalled as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv after serving in this position from 1985 until 1993, when he was appointed Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, a position which he held until 2003.

Lau has often been characterized as the "consensus rabbi", and has close ties to both Haredi and Modern Orthodox Judaism, particularly in regard to his politics, which have been characterized as moderate Zionist.[5] One report described him as "too Zionist to be considered Haredi."

He is respected internationally by Jews and non-Jews alike, and is one of the few figures in the Haredi world who has managed to gain the trust and admiration of both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic population. Lau has received some negative attention for his stances and remarks on non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism. When Lau was awarded the Israel Prize in May 2005, there were protests from the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel. Non-Orthodox leaders noted that it was ironic that Lau was being honored for "bridging rifts in Israeli society". Lau's spokespeople said that the fact that he had been approved by the (presumably heterogeneous) Prize Committee spoke for itself.3

Interfaith work[edit]

In 1993, Rav Lau had an hour-long meeting with John Paul II at the Pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome sought to offer the Vatican's moral support to the latest peace moves in the Middle East. The visit was the first between a Pope and one of Israel's chief rabbis since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.[6] In 2009, he was critical of a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to Israel.[7] He later applauded a new papal statement which gave more emphasis to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.[8]

Presidential candidacy[edit]

In the spring of 2006, the Israeli media reported that Lau was being considered for presidency of the State of Israel. Some critics in the Israeli media wrote that Lau was more focused on maintaining his image as a progressive than in implementing such positions in the rabbinate's policies, specifically major issues such as agunot, civil marriage, the status of Shabbat, and other divisive topics that continue to be relevant to many in the secular community vis-a-vis the Chief Rabbinate, which under Lau's leadership usually sided with the Orthodox perspective.

Another criticism was that a rabbi as president could further blur the line between religion and the state, and push Israel closer to becoming a theocracy, both in fact and public perception. Israel's gay community also opposed Lau's possible candidacy due to his criticism of the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv and views on same sex couples. The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel also regarded Lau's candidacy as "unsuitable." A Reform activist accused Lau of being more concerned with fulfilling Judaism's ritual requirements than focusing on pressing ethical questions such as discrimination in Israel or genocide in Darfur.

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2005, Lau was awarded the Israel Prize for his lifetime achievements and special contribution to society and the State of Israel.[9]

On 14 April 2011, he was awarded the Legion of Honor (France's highest accolade) by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in recognition of his efforts to promote interfaith dialogue.[10]

Views[edit]

"Let's sit down together and let's live together. We always knew how to die together. The time has come for us to know also how to live together, said Lau, calling for co-operation and dialogue between all Jews (Jerusalem, 14 February 1999).

At the 2006 commemoration of the massacre of Babi Yar, Lau pointed out that if the world had reacted, perhaps the Holocaust might never have happened. Implying that Hitler was emboldened by this impunity, Lau speculated:

"Maybe, say, this Babi Yar was also a test for Hitler. If on 29 September and 30 September 1941 Babi Yar may happen and the world did not react seriously, dramatically, abnormally, maybe this was a good test for him. So a few weeks later in January 1942, near Berlin in Wannsee, a convention can be held with a decision, a final solution to the Jewish problem. Maybe if the very action had been a serious one, a dramatic one, in September 1941 here in Ukraine, the Wannsee Conference would have come to a different end, maybe".[11]

Published works[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Rieder-Indursky, Estee. An Apple & Tree in Tel Aviv: Rabbis Yisrael Meir and Tzvi Yehuda Lau perpetuate a rabbinic chain. Mishpacha Special Supplement: A Father to Follow: Fathers, sons, and their intertwining paths. Pesach 5771 (April 2011), pp. 8–17.
  2. ^ Margalit Fox 'Rabbi Who Cried to the Jews of Buchenwald: ‘You Are Free’, at The New York Times, 27 March 2013.
  3. ^ Associated Press (26 June 2008). Academics make startling finds as they sweep through untapped Nazi records.
  4. ^ Teller, Hanoch (1995). And From Jerusalem, His Word: Stories and Insights of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l. Feldheim Publishers. p. 193. ISBN 1-881939-05-7. 
  5. ^ Only cache available Israel Prize for 'consensus rabbi' Yisrael Lau, Jerusalem Post, 14 April 2005
  6. ^ Cowell, Alan (22 September 1993). "Pope Meets a Chief Rabbi, Feeding Talk of Israeli Ties". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  7. ^ Ben-David, Calev; Ackerman, Gwen (12 May 2009). "Pope Visits Temple Mount as Mideast Trip Sparks Controversy". Bloomberg. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  8. ^ Boudreaux, Richard (16 May 2009). "Pope ends Holy Land visit with plea for peace". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "Israel Prize Judges’ Rationale for the Award (in Hebrew)". Israel Prize Official Site. Archived from the original on 30 April 2010. 
  10. ^ Shefler, Gil (14 April 2011). "Sarkozy awards Legion of Honor to former chief rabbi". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  11. ^ Rabbi Lau's Statement at the International Forum “Let My People Live!”, Kiev, 27 September 2006; World Holocaust Forum

External links[edit]

Jewish titles
Preceded by
Avraham Shapira
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel
1993–2003
Succeeded by
Yona Metzger