Naftali Bennett (Image credit: Government Press Office of Israel)
Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, a leading religious Zionist figure and head of the Tzomet Institute, submitted his letter of resignation from his role on the Jewish Home party directorate on Thursday. In it, he stated he is stepping down because the party’s chairman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, continues to retain a homosexual woman as his media adviser – despite presenting himself as the head of a religious party.
Bennett responded on Twitter, where he wrote: “Whoever thinks that I should discriminate against a person based on their [sexual] orientation, gender, or skin color will receive an absolute refusal from me. Beloved is man – every person – who was created in the image [of G-d].” The last line is based on the Jewish text Pirkei Avot 3:14.
The fallout may have major implications for the future of the party, as Bennett and his secular colleague Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked lead it ever more heavily towards a more liberal and secular crowd, while burning bridges with much of its original religious Zionist support base.
Rabbi Rozen’s resignation comes after Adi, the female “partner” of Bennett’s media advisor Brit Galor Peretz, revealed on social media in late July that the two homosexual women are living together and raising two children. Her post came in protest of a government decision to prevent same-sex “couples” from adopting children.
“I have expressed a critical position over the ‘Home’ turning its back on issues of religion and state, and leaving this front only to the Haredim,” Rozen wrote in his letter of resignation.
“It is no surprise that they are leaving a proud woman (i.e., a homosexual woman, in reference to “gay pride”) as spokeswoman of the [Jewish] Home. I have nothing against her or them, but in my opinion this [homosexual] community activity is invalid as it is defiant, and the demonstrated [gay] pride is impossible in a party that purports to represent religious Zionism.”
Bennett’s refusal to compromise on the matter may come as no surprise, as he has previously shown open support for homosexuality despite leading a supposedly religious party – and despite the explicit Torah injunction on homosexuality.
Following a stabbing attack by a Jewish extremist at the gay “pride” parade in Jerusalem in July 2015, in which a woman was murdered, Bennett ordered to “dramatically” expand the budget of the Israel Gay Youth organization in his role as education minister.
“Jewish Home is not a religious party”
Responding to Rabbi Rozen tendering his resignation and Bennett’s response, Chief Rabbi of Beit El and Dean of Ateret Yerushalayim Yeshiva Rabbi Shlomo Aviner told Srugim on Thursday that Jewish Home can no longer be considered a religious party.
In discussing the homosexual media adviser, Rabbi Aviner framed the topic by distinguishing between small and severe religious transgressions, noting there is a difference “between a transgression that a person does in secret and feels ashamed about, and a transgression that a person declares publicly.”
“In such a situation [of public transgression], it is no longer possible to call Jewish Home a religious party,” he said.
The rabbi added that: “We do not intervene in what a person does in their private life. But on things connected to the life of the nation, we do intervene. When the head of a party employs a senior employee who declares in public that she lives in contradiction to G-d’s word, in Halakha (Jewish law) that is called supporting transgressors - in other words giving legitimacy.”
Responding to Bennett’s quotation of Pirkei Avot in his tweet, Rabbi Aviner said, “It’s very nice that he knows this line that is in Pirkei Avot, but they should recommend that he also read the continuation. It’s not so difficult: 'Beloved are Israel, who are called children of G-d.' We are not just people, but also Jews.”
“And also in the continuation: 'Beloved are Israel, who were given a precious instrument,' in other words the Torah, and in the Torah it is written that our mother Eve married the first man Adam, and not another woman.
“It is very fitting that a senior politician update himself now and then, every few thousand years, and know that the Torah was given,” Rabbi Aviner said, tongue in cheek. “If he will go in the ways of the Torah it will bring a blessing to him, to the party, and also to the entire nation.”
The timing of Rabbi Rozen’s letter may have great impact, as the development comes amid ongoing tensions between the Jewish Home and Tekuma factions of the party. The latter is demanding a discussion be held regarding the religious nature of the party and its ideological positions, while the former demands Tekuma members run in party primaries rather than have specific seats on the joint Knesset list held for them.
There has been speculation that the growing rift may see Tekuma break off and run jointly with other religious factions, such as former MK Eli Yishai’s Yachad party and former MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari’s Otzma Yehudit party.