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Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau addresses the United Nations

Yisrael (Israel) Meir Lau (Hebrew: ישראל מאיר לאו) is the Chairman of Yad Vashem and Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Israel. He previously served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1993 to 2003.



Yisrael Meir Lau (8 years old) in the arms of Elazar Schiff, Buchenwald's survivors at their arrival at Haifa on 15 July 1945.

Lau was born on June 1, 1937, in the Polish town of Piotrków Trybunalski. His father, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, was the last Chief Rabbi of the town and died in the Treblinka death camp.

Lau was freed from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. Lau has credited a teen prisoner with protecting him in the camp (later determined by historian Kenneth Waltzer to be Fyodor Michajlitschenko).[1] His entire family was murdered, with the exception of his older brother, Naphtali Lau-Lavie, his half brother, Yehoshua Lau-Hager, and his uncle already living in Mandate Palestine.

Lau immigrated to Mandate Palestine with his brother Naphtali in July 1945. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1961. He is married to the daughter of the former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv. He served as chief rabbi in Netanya (1978-1988), and at that time developed his reputation as a popular orator. Lau is the father of Rabbi David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Modi'in. He is the uncle of Rabbi Dr. Binyamin (Benny) Lau, an educator and activist in the Religious Zionist movement, and Amichai Lau-Lavie, the founder and artistic director of the Jewish ritual theater company Storahtelling.

Public life

On November 9, 2008, Lau was appointed by the Israeli government as Chairman of Yad Vashem to replace the late Tommy Lapid 10. On June 9, 2005, Lau was reinstalled as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv after serving in this position from 1985 until 1993, when he was appointed Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, a position which he held until 2003.

Rabbinical career

Lau has often been characterized as the "consensus rabbi", and has close ties to both Haredi and Modern Orthodox Judaism, particularly in regard to his politics, which have been characterized as moderate Zionist. One report described him as "too Zionist to be considered haredi."2 He is respected internationally by Jews and non-Jews alike, and is one of the few figures in the Haredi world who has managed to gain the trust and admiration of both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic population.

Lau has also received some negative attention for his stances and remarks on non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism. When Lau was awarded the Israel Prize in May 2005, there were protests from the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel. Non-Orthodox leaders noted that it was ironic that Lau was being honored for "bridging rifts in Israeli society". Lau's spokespeople said that the fact that he had been approved by the (presumably heterogeneous) Prize Committee spoke for itself.3

Interfaith work

In 1993, had hour meeting with John Paul II at the Pope's summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome sought to offer the Vatican's moral support to the latest peace moves in the Middle East. The visit was the first between a Pope and one of Israel's chief rabbis since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948. [2]

In 2009, he was critical of a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to Israel. [3] He later applauded a new papal statement which gave more emphasis to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust. [4]

Presidential candidacy

In the spring of 2006, the Israeli media reported that Rabbi Lau was being considered for presidency of the State of Israel.4 Some critics in the Israeli media wrote that Lau was more focused on maintaining his image as a progressive than in implementing such positions in the rabbinate's policies, specifically major issues such as agunot, civil marriage, the status of Shabbat, and other divisive topics that continue to be relevant to many in the secular community vis-a-vis the Chief Rabbinate, which under Lau's leadership usually sided with the Orthodox perspective.5 Another criticism was that a rabbi as president could further blur the line between religion and the state, and push Israel closer to becoming a theocracy, both in fact and public perception.6 Israel's gay community also opposed Lau's possible candidacy due to his criticism of the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv and views on same sex couples. Lau said: "I fail to understand the source of pride here. Why do they have to display their personal preferences in public?" On same sex unions, Lau said "it pains me to see that an abnormal way of life is replacing the family unit." 7

The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel also regarded Lau's candidacy as "unsuitable." A Reform activist accused Rabbi Lau of being more concerned with fulfilling Judaism's ritual requirements than focusing on pressing ethical questions such as discrimination in Israel or genocide in Darfur.8


In 2005, Lau was awarded the Israel Prize for his lifetime achievements and special contribution to society and the State of Israel.


  • "Let’s sit down together, and let’s live together. We always knew how to die together. The time has come for us to know also how to live together." — Rabbi Lau, calling for co-operation and dialogue between all Jews (Jerusalem, February 14, 1999).9

Published works

  • Do Not Raise a Hand Against the Boy (2000) is a memoir about his experiences in the Holocaust, released on the 55th anniversary of Buchenwald's liberation [5]
  • Practical Judaism. Philipp Feldheim, 1997. ISBN 0873068270
  • Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos. Artscroll, 2006. ISBN 1422600696
  • Yichil Yisrael Shaelot u'Tshuvot

References (with [square] brackets):

Footnotes [without square brackets]:

External links

See also

Preceded by
Avraham Shapira
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel
Yisrael Meir Lau

Succeeded by
Yona Metzger

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