Incoming Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, elected to the post just last week, is already embroiled in his first scandal: A controversial recording of a remark he made on Monday about basketball players surfaced Tuesday, sparking angry responses.
Trying to convince young haredi men to refrain from the increasingly common practice of watching basketball games at neighborhood convenience stores (most haredim do not have television sets at home), the new chief rabbi asked, "Who cares if a bunch of paid 'Cushim' [a colloquial term for black people] in Tel Aviv beat a bunch of paid 'Cushim' in Greece?"
"Even my kashrut supervisors are ashamed to enter places where haredi men are prone to watching a colorful screen on Thursday nights in the winter," the rabbi continued, referring to Thursday evening Euroleague Maccabi Tel Aviv games.
Finally, the rabbi insisted that if the public sees young haredi men making an effort to study Torah rather than waste their time with basketball, the problems surrounding state efforts to recruit haredi men to the military would disappear. He said further than he could not defend the imperative for haredi men to study Torah rather than serving in the military when they are seen loitering at convenience stores watching basketball games.
Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian woman to serve in the Knesset, rushed to issue a response Tuesday, saying "[Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali] Bennett was right. The Chief Rabbinate must change. It is unfathomable that a rabbi of his stature would say something so racist."
"There is no doubt that if this is how the Chief Rabbinate will look in the coming years, woe to us. Next time an Ethiopian couple comes to him [to marry], the rabbi might say, 'Who cares if Jewish Cushim get married?'"
"It is a sad situation when a man who sees himself as worthy of serving as Israel's chief rabbi expresses himself in such a racist way," she concluded.