Israel's new Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau has called on yeshiva students to shut themselves up in their houses of study as much as possible rather than be seen being idle in public, so as not to create the impression that the demand to exempt them from military service is unjustified.
Talking to yeshiva students at a summer camp of the Beit Matityahu Yeshiva, which he graduated from, Rabbi Lau said he was finding it difficult to defend the stand maintaining that "their Torah is their profession" while some of them were outside the yeshivot, or worse – in inappropriate entertainment center.
By doing that, he said, they were giving their opponents the opportunity to speak against them. A recording of his comments was published by ultra-Orthodox news agency Kav Hahasifot ("Exposure Line").
'Does it make a difference which black men win?
As an example, the rabbi mentioned a well known hobby of yeshiva students – watching Maccabi Tel Aviv's Euroleague basketball games at public places. He said that when he is asked, as a rabbi, to explain the issue, "I really have no answer for that.
"There are some Thursday evenings on which for some reason, in my hometown of Tel Aviv, there is a screen with colors on it at kiosks, and somehow most of the viewers around it belong to a public which wears a hat and a suit and some who only wear a shirt, but most of them have fringed garments (worn by Orthodox Jews) and a black skullcap," the chief rabbi noted.
"Even my supervisors (kashrut inspectors who visit the kiosk as part of their job) are ashamed to go in there on those hours," he scolded the yeshiva students.
The rabbi added jokingly that he could not understand the habit: "What difference does it make if the black men paid in Tel Aviv defeat the black men paid in Greece?"
'You don't know what it looks like'
Rabbi Lau told the camp participants that many intersections – like the Shilat Junction at the northern entrance to the city he lives in, Modiin – were jammed almost all hours of the day, including during yeshiva study time, with young haredim waiting to hitchhike, "so that not a single car can stop there.
"How many times can I say that they are going to listen to a 'havura' (Torah lesson)? Come on," he said, "we have to be careful. I'm not talking about it from the prohibition side right now, I am talking about the fact that, God forbid, look what it looks like. These are difficult times for us and you don't know what it looks like among the public."
The new chief rabbi concluded by arguing that if yeshiva students would not be seen outside their houses of study on such opportunities, but would demonstrate to the world that Torah study filled their entire lives, then "most of the questions (of their opponents) will not be practical."