UN of religions in the Holy Country
Together with nine personalities of Romania, Sorin Rosca Stanescu went to Jerusalem to be awarded "The Man of 2005" prize by the Israeli-Romanian Cultural Center. He took this opportunity to interview Yona Metzger, Chief Rabbi in Israel.
S.R.S.: Your Excellency, first of all we thank you for your kindness, for having invited us here to Jerusalem. Here is a first question: Are you usually interviewed?
Y.M.: No, not at all. I do this rarely. But I am doing it today in your honour.
S.R.S.: Have you ever been interviewed by a Romanian journalist before?
Y.M.: No, I can't remember being interviewed for the Romanian press.
This is a premier. The second one is that you are the first Romanian editorialist face to face with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, who is the youngest chief rabbi ever named in Israel and the first one born on the Holy Land of Israel.
S.R.S.: You were a artillery captain in the Israeli army and you were born in 1953.
Y.M.: So you did your homework.
S.R.S.: Why have you been elected for such a position and nobody else?
Y.M.: There were several candidates. All my life, for 28 years now, I have served as a rabbi, searching to take neither the left nor the right, but to stick to "the golden way". I know how to walk in the rain without getting wet.
S.R.S.: So what was your way from the artillery to the high spiritual position you have today?
Y.M.: In this country, we all are called to weapons. This is the law.
Our dream is that this law should change. Many people graduated university. But instead of doing their job, they are summoned to military training to learn how to protect themselves against bullets, bombs and so on. In Israel there are groups allowed not to have military service. It is people from the Israeli academia, certain scientists who contribute to the development of the country. They would disturb such development by leaving for the army. There are also groups of religious authority selected for continuing research on the religious activity, research on the Bible, in order to become rabbies or discover they can't become rabbies. (...)
S.R.S.: Do the Palestinians love you, respect you or do they fear you?
Y.M.: I don't know how I can answer this question. I think they themselves can give you the best answer. But I want to tell you the truth.
I think that only by good collaboration with them - I am thinking about their religious leaders - we can maintain peace and security in this area. In my meetings I have talked to many religious leaders about the problems here. I even talked to the Pope, in Vatican. I proved the problems are not caused by the Jewish religious leaders, but by Moslem leaders.
I talked to them but unfortunately their activities are more aggressive, unlike those of other religious leaders. I can give you an example: the Anglican Church was represented here by the Archbishop of Canterbury, guiding about 70 million believers. I invited him and he asked me to arrange a meeting with Moslem religious leaders. We met, we talked, the Moslem religious leaders were always saying they wanted peace, peace, peace. But at the end of the meeting in Jerusalem, when they were to shake hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with me, they refused, saying they were afraid to do it because they could get sanctioned or killed in their country for such a gesture. This is why there would be no pictures with them and us. I realized a lot of things. First of all, they are afraid. I had many meetings with them, but it seems to me that they want more than they can get.
S.R.S.: Does the Hamas have chances to be acknowledged by the international community as a real political force in power in the area, as a partner for dialogue, given the results of the last elections in Israel?
Y.M.: Right now they are in a special situation, just as it happened to prime minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon was accused of having given back the lands he had fought for as a soldier, of having changed his view fundamentally now, as compared to the time when he was in the opposition. “How does it happened ?” critics have asked him. Sharon answered with a famous sentence: that what you can see from here you can't see from there. He insinuated that his view while he was in the opposition could be seen differently, as compared to what he does now, when he is in power. This may be and I pray for it, that Hamas will see things like Ariel Sharon, for they are no longer in the opposition, they are at rule and they have to see things in a different light. Unless the United States and the European Union continue to provide finance for Palestinians, it is sure that the people who voted for Hamas should rebel against them. But in these days' newspapers I have seen they want an Ayatollah like in Iran. If they want to have a new Teheran in this region, it won't be only us to oppose. It will also be Egypt, as Hosni Mubarak is moderate and I don't think he will accept and allow it.
S.R.S.: I know that on long term it is important for Israel to have a powerful religious leader. What about the short term? What is more efficient for today's Israel? A powerful political leader or still a religious leader?
Y.M.: I want to be very realistic and tell you: I don't believe in the existence of either a powerful prime minister or a powerful religious leader. There cannot be one without the other. As religious leaders, we are traditionalists and we say that as long as those in political power in the country have no action against traditionalism, everything will be fine. We strongly believe in tradition. But it doesn't mean tradition is to be interpreted as faith in the Bible only. We also talk about belief in the country. This is the feeling of the Holy Country, which you can check. (...)
S.R.S.: Your Excellency, do you participate at the most important political decisions made by the governmental structure in Israel?
Y.M.: From a religious point of view, there are matters concerning our community. We and the government have got responsibilities, they ask us for our opinion. For instance when the Jewish colonies withdrew from Gaza there was left one synagogue and the government asked us what was to happen to it. They did what we said and changed the outlook of many ministers. As for strictly political matters, we don't want to get involved. It is better this way. It isn't exactly fair, honest and pure for a rabbi to be in politics. A rabbi must be as pure and clean inside as possible. As I have mentioned in the beginning, we have to follow the golden way, avoiding choice for one side of the way or the other. This is why personally I like the idea of not getting involved in politics.
S.R.S.: Do international authorities consult you?
Y.M.: In every country I have been I have had official meetings with their presidents, prime ministers, religious leaders. I delivered speeches in many parliaments. We talked about the main political matters of the contemporary world. In Lyon, France, I proposed at a convention of several religious leaders in the world that we should establish a new UN, not of diplomats and ambassadors this time, but of religious leaders from all the world's religions. I proposed the headquarters should be here, in Jerusalem, the Holy City. It is not an obstacle for diplomats' activity. On the contrary, it is an activity parallel to the United Nations Organization in New York. In the end they will reach a common point: peace, democracy, human rights, tolerance. We wish every country in the world would send a religious ambassador here. Such direct relations of religious leaders within this UN would do good to the people in the countries they come from.
When you talk to someone face to face, as the conversation gets deeper, you get closer and closer to one another. When I proposed this in Lyon, everybody applauded. It was unanimously appreciated. It is an extraordinary idea indeed. (...)
S.R.S.: Twenty years ago Romanian was much spoken in Israel, as many Romanian-origin Jews had left the country to settle in Israel. What can you tell us about the Romanian Jews community in Israel? Are they different from the others?
Y.M.: What do you mean by different?
S.R.S.: Have they got different customs and outlooks? Have they got specific attitudes?
Y.M.: I know that Romanians in the Jewish community here are very clever. They are good traders and I know many of them. I know Romania is a country where more and more Jews go to Romania, for settling there or for work. My dream is that one day they all should come back and live in Israel, the Holy Country. (...)
S.R.S.: When are you going to visit Romania?
Y.M.: I don't know for sure yet. When I get the invitation, I will check my agenda and we will decide.
S.R.S.: I know there is project on three great rabbies coming to Bucharest: His Excellency Raby Shem Tov from the United States of America, you from Israel and His Excellency Raby Mosche Garelic from Brussels.
Y.M.: Why now? I will check the exact time, especially that, to me, Romania is very close to Israel. (...) I know that in the past in Romania there were many Jews, there was a powerful community of Jews much involved in social life. But they suffered greatly because of the Holocaust and communism. I think Romania lost a lot because of it, given the contribution they had to Romania's economic development.
S.R.S.: One last question, Your Excellency: the best friend of Israel is America.
Y.M.: And Romania.
S.R.S.: There will soon be a new Romanian Ambassador in Washington. In your opinion, should this representative have certain qualities? If you were president of Romania today, what kind of ambassador would you name?
S.R.S.: It is normal that the ambassador who ended mission should be replaced. I think he must be a clever and powerful man first of all.
He will be ambassador in a country that has become a world leader and is carefully watched by the world's leaders. We should be happy that a country like this has got the main role in democracy for many people and many Israelis. Given this, democracy is the best way. What will be in the future will be. The future ambassador will have important responsibilities both for the country he represents and the whole world. But a main quality is that he should be a good friend of Israel.
S.R.S.: And of a the Jewish community in particular.
Y.M.: I needn't say it, for the friend of America is the friend of Israel.
S.R.S.: This is a good answer indeed. Your Excellency, thank you very much for this interview. We are looking forward to seeing you in Romania as soon as possible.