Rabbi’s essay, calling Israeli politicians ‘war criminals’, sparks row

Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tov wrote that they had ‘manufactured a famine’


Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tom (Photo: Instagram)

A row has erupted at the flagship Masorti synagogue over a rabbi’s essay, which suggests that Israeli politicians are “war criminals”, whose actions have turned some of the words from the haggadah into  “gibberish”.

Lara Haft Yom-Tov, who is a rabbi at the New North London Synagogue in Finchley, north-west London, contributed an essay to a “justice-oriented haggadah reader”, which also includes commentaries from members of Jewish left-wing organisations Halachic Left and All That’s Left.

Rabbi Yom-Tov, who uses “they/them” pronouns wrote: “At this year’s seder, the same war criminals who have forced Palestinian families to flee their homes will lift up their matzah and wax poetic about the Israelites’ rush to escape Egypt.”

“The same politicians who have manufactured a famine in Gaza, leading millions to the brink of starvation, will proudly declare: ‘Let all who are hungry come and eat’.”

They add that this famed line of the haggadah, which is also the title of their essay “has become gibberish”.

Appearing to allude to the Israeli governement, Rabbi Yom-Tov writes about “regimes that celebrate the starvation of children and punish anyone who dares resist”. 

The congregation’s other rabbis, who include Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, senior rabbi at Masorti Judaism, have distanced themselves from the essay.

Together with the chair and co-CEOs, Rabbi Wittenberg and Rabbi Zahavit Shalev sent an email to syngaogue members, stating: “This article does not reflect our views, those of the community or of Masorti Judaism, and our rabbis and leadership were not made aware of it in advance of publication, as they should have been.

“We are deeply committed to Israel and we affirm our support for the close ties innumerable members of our community have with Israel and acknowledge the many and varied views they hold."

They added: “Rabbi Lara is a new member of our newly enlarged rabbinic team and has made positive contributions which are widely appreciated. We will be taking appropriate steps to ensure this is a significant learning experience and will work with Rabbi Lara to help them appreciate the power of their office and their responsibility to NNLS and the wider community.”

They wrote that the matter was due to to addressed at the next council meeting in May.

The essay led to criticism among the congregants. Speaking anonymously, one NNLS member said: "I disapprove of what they said. The words could have been chosen infinitely more carefully.

"I have heard some people clamouring for them to resign, while I think that is totally over the top."

Another long-time NNLS member said: “I agree with every word Rabbi Lara, said but it was most unwise to put it in print. Not because it is not true or there is anything to be ashamed of but because this is a time of such division and risk [...] the Jewish position in the world has been put at risk– both by the action against us and our own defensive retaliation”.

In the meantime, it has emerged that the co-editor of the NNLS magazine, Noa Gendler, also contributed to the collection, which was published by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).

Gendler asks: “How can we possibly call for the destruction of our enemies while our relatives, neighbours and friends justify ethnic cleansing on that basis?

“How can I even contemplate those words, when the same words will be said by Jews all over the world who are celebrating the genocide of the Palestinian people? The idea is repugnant to me, and makes me feel more alienated from my faith than I can bear.”

NNLS, Rabbi Lara Yom-Tov and Noa Gendler were approached by the JC for comment.


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