Michael Boyden

A president with no moral compass

President Reuven Rivlin, or “Ruby Rivlin” as they used to call him before he was appointed to his current exalted position, will go down in history as one of the worst occupants of that privileged office.

President Rivlin by his own admission is a Jew “who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments”. Nevertheless, that did not prevent him following a visit to Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, N.J. from referring to Reform Judaism as “Idol worship and not Judaism”.

He even declined to use the title “rabbi” when addressing the former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie. In doing so he not only insulted Rabbi Yoffie, but also demonstrated his disdain for the largest stream in American Jewry.

The President of the State of Israel is seen as a figurehead not only in his own country but by Jews throughout the Jewish world. It should have been clear even then that a person of his ilk was ill-fitted to exercise the role of president.

However, it took this week’s events in which he entrusted prime minister Netanyahu with the task of forming Israel’s next government for many to feel the dismay at his behavior that many of us have felt for years.

In giving Netanyahu the first shot at piecing together a coalition President Rivlin said that it was problematic to entrust that role to a candidate with a criminal indictment against him, but that the Supreme Court had ruled it possible and “the president cannot replace the legislators. The decision to prevent a candidate under indictment from forming a government is the Knesset’s decision.”

While it is convenient for President Rivlin to be able to hide behind the ruling of the Supreme Court and the lack of legislation forbidding a person facing criminal charges from forming a government, one would have expected Israel’s president to lead the nation and provide the moral compass that we so desperately need at this time.

Back in 1952 Albert Einstein was offered the presidency, but declined, stating that “I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions”.

Would that President Rivlin had had the same sense of self-worth when he was appointed to office in 2014.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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