By Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz and Rabbi Chaim Strauchler
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is perhaps the most illustrious community builder of his generation.
He is the founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City; founding chief rabbi of the town of Efrat in Israel; and founder and chancellor of the Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, a network of high schools, colleges, and graduate programs in the United States and Israel.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Rabbi Riskin became a leader of the movement to allow free, unfettered emigration for persecuted Soviet Jews, and he made several trips to visit and strengthen the Jewish communities in the USSR. He was the chairman of Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the first American national movement to free Russian Jews.
Rabbi Riskin had the courage to make aliyah when he was one of the most influential rabbis in North America. He built a remarkable city, of which he is now chief rabbi. He continues to build and sustain great institutions of Torah learning and leadership.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is not only a great leader, he is also a great rabbi. He was a student of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik who was his guiding inspiration, and he was close to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Both of these great rabbinic leaders encouraged and supported his work, and gave him their complete confidence.
To us and to many other rabbis in the field, Rabbi Riskin has long been an example of inspired rabbinic leadership. Rabbi Riskin has consistently tackled difficult issues with courage, wisdom and compassion. While we have not always agreed with each of his positions, we have been proud to look up to him as a teacher, mentor and personal hero.
As he begins his 75th year, he remains energetic in mind and body, ready to take on any challenge that might face our community.
This week, Rabbi Riskin was forced to face such a challenge, unnecessary and petty though it is.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel summoned him to a meeting to discuss his re-appointment as rabbi of the town he co-founded, Efrat. This is highly unusual. It is seen as being politically motivated and a result of the Chief Rabbinate’s opposition to Rabbi Riskin’s advocacy on behalf of important issues, including conversion.
It behooves Canadian Jewry to recognize that an attack of this sort upon a leader of the modern Orthodox community such as Rabbi Riskin is an attack on our community itself.
We call for Rabbi Riskin’s immediate re-appointment as chief rabbi of Efrat, and we ask that others join us.
We pray for his continued strength as he proudly carries on his calling as a rabbi and as a leader.
Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz is spiritual leader of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem in Montreal.
Rabbi Chaim Strauchler is spiritual leader of Shaarei Shomayim Congregation in Toronto.