Report: Rabbi Ordered Israeli Health Minister to Step Down

Is Israel a religious state like Iran, or a secular democratic one like in Europe?

Yaakov Litzman answers to his rabbi on political affairs.
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

The West touts its complete separation of church and state.

In the Muslim world, there is no distinction between religion and government.

The Jewish State of Israel sits somewhere in the middle of those two approaches.

A fully democratic state, yes, Israeli politics are nevertheless largely driven by the Bible and Jewish religious law.

This was demonstrated once again this month when the ultra-Orthodox Jewish politician who has served as Israel’s Minister of Health for the past ten years was reportedly ordered to step down by his personal rabbi.

Yaakov Litzman, one of the leaders of the United Torah Judaism faction, was heavily criticized for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Many Israelis were in particular appalled by the fact that Litzman’s primary answer to the pandemic appeared to be praying for the Messiah to make an early appearance.

Still, it came as a surprise to most when Litzman insisted that in the new government recently established he would like to switch jobs to Minister of Housing.

Litzman’s official reason was that he’d done all he could for Israel’s healthcare system. Many would argue that “all he could do” wasn’t very much, and had been achieved many, many years ago. Those same people are demanding that the next Israel Minister of Health be someone with an actual healthcare background.

Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that the real reason for Litzman’s sudden change of heart was a dispute with the leader of the Gur Hasidic sect, who is also his personal rabbi.

The Gur (or Ger) are the largest Hasidic sect in Israel, and as such their leader, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, wields considerable influence, both socially and politically.

Rumor has it that Rabbi Alter was upset that Litzman had eventually gone along with the recommendations of secular health officials to lockdown ultra-Orthodox towns and neighborhoods that had suffered major coronavirus outbreaks.

Yaakov Litzman compared to Amalek.

Graffiti in the Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim comparing Litzman to Israel’s biblical enemy “Amalek” over his cooperation with secular authorities.

Sources close to the Gur leader told Israel’s Ynet news portal that he eventually grew so fed up that he ordered Litzman to step down as Minister of Health.

We often decry the fact that Iran’s democracy is but a facade for the iron-fisted rule of the ayatollahs. But to what extent are prominent rabbis calling the shots behind the scenes in Israel?