Leaked Transcript of Israeli Police Interview of Conservative Rabbi

Note: Translated from the Hebrew. All names have been changed.

Officer 1: Let the record note that we’re beginning this interview at 05:44 local time and we are recording this conversation. We have a few questions for you, Rabbi Schechter. Where were you between 19:00 and 20:00 on the evening of June 5, 2018?

Rabbi: At the Beach Plaza Hotel near Haifa.

Officer 1: And what were you doing there?

Rabbi: Officiating a wedding between two Jews.

Officer 1: Who said you could do that?

Rabbi: Well, I’ve been doing it for 35 years.

Officer 2: Answer the question!

Officer 1: No, it’s okay, Rafi. He’s cooperating. Rabbi, can I get you anything? Cigarette? Coffee? Bamba?

bamba

Rabbi: No thank you.

Officer 1: Are you sure? There’s nothing like Bamba–

Officer 2: Stop coddling him, Shmulik. Rabbi, why did you do it!? Tell us now or it won’t go easy for you!!

Rabbi: The wedding?

Officer 2: The unauthorized wedding! Shmuel, this mamzer is f—–ng with us! Let me have a couple minutes alone with him.

Rabbi: Oh my God! What?!  

Officer 1: No, no  – it’s okay, Rafi. Rabbi, here’s what we need from you. We need to know why you did the wedding, and who you work for.

Rabbi: I’m confused. It’s all in the wedding program.

Officer 1: Still, it’s better if we hear it from you.

Rabbi: Okay. I married a Jewish woman and a Jewish man according to Jewish law, in keeping with the practices and beliefs of my movement of Judaism.

Officer 2: That’s a nice little rehearsed speech. You say you work for your movement. And just what kind of organization is that?!

Rabbi: It’s the Conservative movement. Masorti here in Israel.

Officer 2: Oh, really? And what’s the big idea behind this so-called “movement”?

Rabbi: It’s based on the idea that halakhah is a living system of meaning, which still is binding upon Jews, and which can and should be flexible enough to adapt to changing times, especially in light of new knowledge. It’s really a return to centuries of halakhic Judaism functioning in a more fluid and inquisitive way, before Orthodoxy made the system too rigid – from our point of view at least

Officer 2: What kind of a twisted, sick, subversive notion is that?! I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth!

Officer 1: Stay focused, Rafi. Rabbi, this is Israel. You’re entitled to your skewed, marginal, crazy beliefs – you’re even allowed to call them a form of Judaism —

Rabbi: — Marginal? Our movement has hundreds of congregations around the world, a seminary in Jerusalem, and my synagogue has been here since the ‘50s —

Officer 2: –don’t interrupt him!

Rabbi: Sorry.

Officer 1: As I was saying, you’re free to believe what you want. But why did you marry these two people that the real rabbis in this country say can’t get married?

Rabbi: I’m a real rabbi.

Officer 2: We’ll see about that.

Officer 1: Why did you do it?!

Rabbi: Because the couple had an issue that prevented an Orthodox rabbi from marrying them, but a Conservative rabbi could do it. They understood that the State wouldn’t recognize their ceremony with me, that they’d also have to leave the country to get a civil wedding and then come back. This happens all the time in Israel. They go to Cyprus, or even Canada or the States, get married, and —

Officer 1: Rafi, make a note. This illegal wedding scheme is international. We’ll have to notify the FM and Mossad… I can’t believe it. Cyprus. It figures.

Officer 2: Noted. Suspect claims he is part of widespread international wedding corruption network that has infiltrated Israel deeply.

Rabbi: No, no, I didn’t say that. I want a lawyer.

Officer 1: Okay, Rabbi, hold on, no need for that yet. We’re just gathering information right now. Now, is there any other reason why you did this wedding?

Rabbi: You mean other than my Jewish religious beliefs?

Officer 2: Watch your mouth!

Officer 1: Relax, Rafi. What do you mean by that, rabbi? Or could it be what we see printed here?!

The record notes that Officer 1 placed a copy of the daily, Yisrael Ha-yom, on the interview table, opened to an article about the Conservative movement and the halakhic issue of mamzerut.

Rabbi: What is this? What are you showing me?

Officer 1: It says here that in your so-called movement the rabbis sometimes do weddings in which one of the parties is a mamzer, and some people are saying that’s what just happened at the wedding you just did!

Rabbi: What? Oh, I heard that rumor. Not true. There was no mamzerut issue with this couple.

Officer 1: But it says right here in print that the so-called Conservative movement has long established a halakhic ruling that mamzerut is inoperative! What do you say to that, sir?

Rabbi: Yes, that’s true, but that decision was made many years ago and doesn’t apply to this–

Officer 2: And who exactly made this decision?!?

Rabbi: The Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

Officer 2: Now it comes out! Shmuel. Write that down. It could be a front organization.

Rabbi: What?!

Officer 1: Just write it down, Rafi. Now rabbi — do you mind if I smoke?

Rabbi: Well, actually–

Officer 1: –there’s just one thing that’s bothering me, that I’d like for you to clear up. What exactly is your religious faction’s problem with this whole mamzerut business, anyway, eh?

Officer 2: No, Shmuel, don’t give him a platform to spew his beliefs! It’s what he wants!

Rabbi: What does that have to do with this case?

Officer 1: We’re asking the questions here!

Rabbi: Okay… Well, pardon me for asking, but are you familiar with the halakhic category of mamzerut?

The record notes that both officers conferred briefly, and then resumed the questioning.

Officer 1: Maybe we are and maybe we aren’t. What do you say it means, Mister “Rabbi”?

Rabbi: It’s an ancient halakhic interpretation that says that if a Jew happens to be the offspring of certain kinds of prohibited sexual unions, then that person is not eligible to get married to anyone except a very limited pool of people.

Officer 1: Ever?

Rabbi: Yes, ever.

Officer 2: That’s ridiculous! He lies, Shmulik!

Rabbi: No it’s the truth. A mamzer, according to the Orthodox, can’t get married to most of the other Jews in the community.

Officer 2: Oh, really? And who can they marry?

Rabbi: Well, another mamzer, or a convert. Technically, they could marry a Jewish slave.

Officer 1: So you’re marrying Israeli citizens to bastards, converts, and slaves?

Rabbi: What? No, wait… there’s so much wrong with what you just said. They’re not bastards–

Officer 2: But some of them are slaves, eh?! Where are these slaves? Where do you keep them, you son of a b—–!

Officer 1: Control yourself, Rafi!

Rabbi: What?! There are no slaves! Hold on a moment.

Officer 1: Is this a human trafficking thing?

Officer 2:  My God!

The record notes that at 05:54 one Adina Abramovitz, an attorney representing the suspect, entered the interrogation room.

Abramovitz: That’s enough, boys. I’m sure you’ve already asked my client more than enough questions without me here. From now on, I’ll be deciding which questions the rabbi will answer.

Officer 1: Okay, okay. Your fancy lawyer is here, we get it. Look, this is what we want to know. Were there any other reasons you chose to break the law?

Abramovitz: Allegedly break the law.

Officer 1: Okay, allegedly.

Rabbi: Bottom line, I know about the law, but it’s rarely enforced and it makes little sense. So many rabbis – even Orthodox ones – do these private weddings that aren’t official in the eyes of the Rabbanut. Afterwards, these couples can leave the country, get married, and come back and have the State recognize their marriage. This is just a chance for them to have a private, personal ceremony in accordance with their religious beliefs. So that’s why I do it. Because I believe the only Jewish state on earth should respect the different movements of Judaism, and I have compassion for Jews who are adversely affected by some of the rules of the Rabbanut.

Officer 2: Compassion, eh? So you marry them out of the goodness of your heart? You just meet them, maybe at some wedding hall, or maybe off the Tayelet in Tel Aviv, or maybe on an overlook in Haifa with the beautiful city and the sea in view behind the huppah

Officer 1: That’s what my daughter wants, but there’s nowhere for the guests to park in Haifa–

Officer 2: Shut up you tembel!

Officer 1: Sorry, carry on.

Officer 2: So you expect us to believe that you do these weddings because you’re just a kind fellow?

Abramovitz: I don’t like your tone. What are you driving at?

Officer 2: Or maybe you were paid off by someone? Tell us the truth!

Rabbi: Of course I was paid.

Officer 2: Aha!

Abramovitz: Rabbi, stop talking.

Rabbi: No, this is silly. The couples always pay the rabbi for the wedding ceremonies.

Officer 1: Okay, I think we’ve heard enough for now. Rafi, phone Haggai’s office. Tell him we’re dealing with a pay-for-mamzer-marriage scam that has penetrated the entire country, from Mt. Hermon to Eilat. Tell him it involves the Cypriots, possibly the Canadians and Americans, and that there may be slaves involved too. This is going to blow up in the media fast, so we should find assistance for the rest of our caseload. Rabbi, you’re going to have to come with us.

Abramovitz: Why? He’s not a flight risk.

Officer 2: No, but he might try to marry another Jewish couple.

Officer 1: Khas v’khalilah!

Abramovitz: You’ll have to get a court order if you want to keep him here.

The record notes that at this time the rabbi reached for a blue cloth pouch that he had with him at the time he was apprehended, and which the officers apparently allowed him to bring with him and place on the table.

Officer 2: Shmulik, get down, he’s reaching for that suspicious package!

Rabbi: It’s my tefillin – I need to davven shakharit.

Officer 2: Save yourselves!

The record notes that Officer 2 threw his body on the table, covering the cloth pouch with his abdomen, apparently expecting it to explode.

==End of leaked portion of transcript.==

 

 

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