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Israeli Chief Rabbi Pays a Visit

Times Staff Writer

One of Israel’s two chief rabbis paid a formal visit to Westminster’s Hebrew Academy on Wednesday, a tribute, Orthodox rabbis say, to the growing strength of Orthodox Judaism in Orange County.

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the elected leader of Sephardic Jews in Israel, arrived in a Rolls-Royce and accompanied by a police escort. He spoke in Hebrew to the schoolchildren and blessed a new girl’s high school campus before leaving for Los Angeles.

“We view this as a state visit,” said Rabbi David Elliezrie of the North Orange County Chabad Center. Until now, he said, Orthodox Jews would send a bus to Los Angeles for the visit of a chief rabbi.

“This is indicative of the maturing of our community into a dynamic center of Jewish life,” Elliezrie said.

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The visit, however, sparked little interest among Conservative and Reform Jews--the county’s majority, said Rabbi Allen Krause, president of the Board of Rabbis. “Because of the coalition government, the Orthodox establishment (in Israel) has done whatever they could to disenfranchise non-Orthodox Jews in Israel,” he said.

The influence of the chief rabbi is “more political than spiritual,” he added.

Rather than join the Board of Rabbis, the county’s 20 Orthodox rabbis--mostly from the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement, recently formed their own council: the Rabinnical Council of Orange County and Long Beach. Orthodox rabbis cited religious differences over intermarriage and the mandatory observance of Jewish law.

Only one Orthodox rabbi, Daniel Epstein, from a modern Orthodox congregation in Irvine, belongs to the Board of Rabbis.

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The Orthodox council aims to set a standard for Orthodox observance in the county by supervising the kosher preparation of food in certain hotels that provide kosher catering, overseeing Orthodox funerals and burials and emphasizing the importance of Jewish education, said council President Aron Berkowitz, religious leader of Chabad--West Orange County.

“Our groups are growing, and the time is right to have a group where everyone could work together,” he said.

Citing similar growth in the Conservative movement, eight conservative rabbis representing 10 synagogues have also launched The Rabbinical Assembly of Orange County, said Rabbi Bradley S. Artson of Temple Eilat in Mission Viejo. Chairman of the organization is Rabbi Shalom Podwol of Long Beach.

The Conservative rabbis, however, will continue to belong to the Orange County Board of Rabbis.


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