After sustaining a harsh verbal attack from Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Saturday evening, religious Zionist Rabbi David Stav was physically attacked at a wedding on Sunday.
The Tzohar chairman and candidate for chief rabbi attended the nuptials Sunday evening of the Western Wall rabbi's daughter. As Stav was exiting the wedding hall, Ashkenazi yeshiva boys surrounded him and yelled, "We don't need people like you as chief rabbi." They also yelled, "Evil!" and "Despicable!" Then several teenagers began to shove Stav. Other guests had to form a protective barrier around the rabbi and shield him with their bodies.
"I was attacked, but I'm okay," Stav told Channel 2 News on Monday morning. "There were a few young punks who shoved me and tried to hit me and pour water on me, but otherwise the vast majority were haredi boys who came to embrace me and ask for my blessing. Thank God, everything is okay."
Another media report said that haredi youth put their feet out to trip Stav during the dancing. Eyewitnesses also said that during the dancing, MK Ariel Atias (Shas) made a point of avoiding Stav.
The attacks follow on the heels of pronouncements Saturday night by Yosef during his weekly Torah class. Yosef said that Stav "has no fear of God."
"His friends in his party told me he is dangerous for the Torah, dangerous for Judaism and dangerous for the rabbinate," Yosef said.
He described Stav's potential appointment as chief rabbi as akin to "placing an idol in the Temple sanctuary," and added, "He is good for nothing. To make him the chief rabbi? Is such a thing permissible?"
On Sunday, the Tzohar organization called on Yosef to repent for his remarks.
"We call on Rabbi Yosef to repent and ask forgiveness for the sin of publicly shaming someone. The words of our sages on the severity of punishment for this sin are known," Tzohar said in a statement.
Stav himself responded to Yosef's words on Sunday. "I am torn up by the divisive atmosphere surrounding the elections for chief rabbi, but when I chose this path, I kept my eye not on myself, but on the ways of Torah."
Yosef sustained criticism from other rabbis as well, most of them religious Zionists. Yosef has "crossed every boundary," said Rabbi Haim Drukman.
"Does he think that speaking that way about someone you've never met is ethical? Halachic? Jewish?" said Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron.
Meanwhile, religious Zionist Rabbi Benny Lau on Monday called for all political leaders "from the president on down" to cease all meetings with Yosef. "It's a humiliation," he said.
Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman on Monday morning responded to the physical attack on Stav. He called on haredi and religious Zionist leaders to forcefully condemn the attack. "Every public figure, especially the spiritual leaders in all the camps in the haredi and religious camps, must clearly condemn the physical attack yesterday on Rabbi David Stav," Lieberman wrote on Facebook. "We expect spiritual leadership, no matter what its views, to condemn fully and certainly not to encourage physical harm to another religious leader. It's a pity that as part of a political race, especially for the post of chief rabbi, there are those leading the public to such dark places."
Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) wrote on his Facebook page on Monday, "All of this fuss around the chief rabbi election only strengthens what many Jews have known for a while: We need a new spirit in the Chief Rabbinate."
Orbach defines this new spirit as "one without insults, without Shas nepotism, without loony extremism, without the conspirators and wheeler-dealers wearing holy garments, without the destructive influence of haredi society on chief rabbis."
"We want a Chief Rabbinate," Orbach continued, "that cares about the needs of converts, about those who observe kashrut and shmita, rabbis who see the state as the first blossoming of our redemption, who try to bring honor to Shabbat and the Torah in a pleasant and kind way."
"It's so basic and elementary," wrote Orbach, "that you have to be a true fanatic not to get it."
Meanwhile, elections for the Chief Rabbinate got officially underway on Sunday as the cabinet approved the 11-member chief rabbi election oversight committee. The composition of the election oversight committee has been changed to include two women.
The cabinet's approval of the election committee signals the official launch of the elections for chief rabbinate, thus ending any possibility that Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar can serve a second term. This is because no more legislative changes can be made to the law for electing chief rabbis.
The election oversight committee is not the same as the 150-member body that will elect the chief rabbi. That larger committee still suffers from an extreme dearth of women. Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi) called the appointment of two women to the oversight committee "of historic importance" because "it changes the whole approach, it's the idea that women can be involved in the process."