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Still A Chief: An Interview with Rabbi David Stav

Rabbi David Stav graduated from Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav and is now the Chief Rabbi of the town of Shoham in central Israel. Rav Stav is a co-founder and the chairman of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization. In 1998, Rabbi Stav co-founded the Hesder Yeshiva in Petach Tikva and teaches in Metivta, a women’s seminary in Bar Ilan University. He is the spokesman for Rashei Yeshivot Hesder across Israel.

Tzohar was founded in the aftermath of assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a way of bridging the widening religious divide within Israel. The organization focuses on reforming the marriage process within the structure of the Israeli Rabbinate.

Rabbi Stav recently ran for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel on a platform advocating major reform. After the most heated candidacy in Israel’s history, he ultimately lost the campaign.

G.B.: What is a trait you most want to see in a rabbi?

R.D.S.: Morality.

G.B.: What is a trait you most want to see in a student?

R.D.S.: Morality.

G.B.: Where is your accent from?

R.D.S.: Ner Yisrael, Baltimore. I learned there in 1974.

G.B.: How many continents have you been to?

R.D.S.: All, except Antarctica. Are there Jews there?

G.B.: How big is your family?

R.D.S.: 9 kids. 7 grand-children, expecting the 8th soon.

G.B.: In once sentence, can Israel be both Jewish and Democratic?

R.D.S.: Yes and no: The law of return is not democratic, but we can work that into a democratic system.

G.B.: When are you most at peace?

R.D.S.: When I see my kids.

G.B.: Who are your heroes?

R.D.S.: Rav Kook. He dared to say things no one would say. He dared to stand in opposition to other rabbis in his time.

G.B.: What is Tzohar?

R.D.S.: A rabbinical organization that tries to bridge the gap between the religious society and the secular society by giving secular society access to religious traditions.

G.B.: How many rabbis are associated with Tzohar?

R.D.S.: Over 600.

G.B.: Are you learning Daf Yomi?

R.D.S.: Sure. I still have to finish half the daf. And it’s getting late.

G.B.: Why should diaspora Jews pick up and move to Shoham?

R.D.S: Because of the Chief Rabbi.

G.B.: In one word, summarize your campaign for the Chief Rabbi of Israel.

R.D.S.: Give me two. Success and failure. Success because it created a public expectation and appreciation for the Chief Rabbi. Failure because, you know, we didn’t win.

G.B.: You are a busy community rabbi, father, grandfather, activist, scholar and all around go-getter. Ironically, though, you wrote a book about leisure. When are your moments of leisure?

R.D.S.: When I fly.

G.B.: Who are your favorite writers?

R.D.S.: When I was young, I had time to read Alistair MacLean. You are too young to know who he is.

G.B.: What is your greatest extravagance?

R.D.S.: Books. Jewish Books.

G.B.: What is your greatest love?

R.D.S.: My wife. Is this a question?

G.B.: What is your most treasured object?

R.D.S.: My Tefillin.

G.B.: What do you fear most?

R.D.S.: God.

G.B.: What is a talent you most want to have?

R.D.S.: Courage. I don’t have enough.

G.B.: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

R.D.S.: Causing people to love their Jewish identities. Bringing people the hope that Jewish tradition and commitment doesn’t not have to contradict with moral values.

G.B.: What motto do you live by?

R.D.S.: To borrow from Reb Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh Hachaim:  Lo Leatzmo, Ela, Leacherim [Not for yourself, but for others].