Elchanan Poupko

An open letter to Rabbi Leo Dee

You've been a unifying figure for all Jews, so why the divisive, polarizing move of praying in the streets of Tel Aviv at this time?
A protester tackling Rabbi Leo Dee as he prays at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 5, 2023. (Video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Dear Rabbi Dee,

I saw the video of your prayers in the streets of Tel Aviv and your post organizing the prayers. I am writing to you to ask the simple question — why?

Why the need of so many religious Zionist Jews to go to the streets of Tel Aviv at a time of such deep division, when you knew it was against the law, and open up a shul on the streets of a city that has more than 500 synagogues? Why?

Why the need to make so many secular Israelis who already fear Israel is becoming another Lebanon, Turkey, Iran or Afghanistan, feel even more anxious than they have before? 

What did you think “should be fun” about going to the heart of a hurting city fearing many of its freedoms will be taken away from them and why would using God’s name and the form of prayer 

Why did you, someone who enjoyed the status of consensus and a unifying figure among all Jews, turn yourself into the battering ram of one side in an unprecedentedly divided Israel? Why? 

I look with amazement at so many religious Zionist Jews in Israel who, like you, used to be a bridge connecting different parts of Israel society, who have gone on to become another wedge in a divided and polarized Israel and wonder how this happened. 


The recent disturbing poll showing the staggering numbers of secular Israelis who no longer want to set foot in synagogue ever again in their life is an urgent wake up call to all of us. Forcing religion in the public square — against the law and against people’s best wishes — is likely to drive even more people away from Judaism. Here in the United States, Christian groups have unprecedented political power — and there are 6,000 – 10,000 churches closing every year. Coercion and forcing ourselves on others have rarely ever brought them to like us. 

We all heard the stories about the kibbutzniks in the early 1900s who ferociously opposed tradition and religion. That is in part because they came from a place where Judaism was forced upon them rather than be something that inspired them. Does anyone seriously think forcing religion in more public spaces will bring more people closer to Judaism? 

Is Simcha Rothman, a religious Zionist Jew leading many of the events that have shaken Israel to its core, looking secular Israelis in the eye, saying: “Yes, I disregard your fears,” following the path of Rav Kook? Is that the path of any religious Zionist rabbi? Or has Kahanism knocked Rav Kook’s legacy out of the way, becoming the new norm for religious Zionism?

Finally, if this is really about free access and Jewish speech everywhere, I ask you what would happen if you were to take a stand with books of Rav Kook, and attempt to preach them in Mea She’arim. What would happen if you organized a religious Zionist minyan on Yom Ha’atzmaut in the most religious neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh? What would happen if you organized a Yom Yerushalayim minyan in Beitar Ilitit? 


Religion can live — and lives best — in a liberal democracy. Liberal democracy cannot live in a theocratic religious state. That is why you would think of going to Dizengoff to change their way of life, but would never dream of going to any of the Haredi strongholds in Israel and suggest any changes in their way of life.  

I remind you of the words of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “The division between politics and religion “is absolutely fundamental. It’s one of the greatest things Judaism ever taught the world: Don’t mix religion and politics. You mix religion and politics, you get terrible politics and even worse religion.”

Chag Same’ach. 

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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