Rabbi Binyamin Tzvi (Benny) Lau will speak at Young Israel of Scarsdale during Shabbat services on Saturday, April 21, on the topic “Israel at 70: From Shtetl to a State, the Challenges of Religion in a Democracy,” and again at 9 p.m. at Young Israel of New Rochelle, where his topic will be “Israel at 70: The Dream and the Reality of a Modern Jewish State.”
As Westchester continues to celebrate “Israel at 70,” Rabbi Lau, a leading figure in the Israeli Zionist movement, will explore challenges and opportunities the founders couldn’t imagine that a modern nation must be ready to face.
Born in Tel Aviv, Rabbi Lau is part of a rabbinic dynasty. Lau is the nephew of Yisrael Meir Lau, a former chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel and the current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and chairman of Yad Vashem. He is the first cousin of David Lau, the current chief Ashkenazi rabbi. His late father, Naphtali Lau-Lavie, married to Joan (nee Lunzer), was a prominent Israeli journalist and diplomat.
Rabbi Lau lives in Jerusalem where he is the rabbi at the Ramban synagogue in Katamon. He teaches at Beit Morasha in Jerusalem, where he established the Beit Midrash for Women. In 2005, he established the Beit Midrash for Social Justice, with the goal to imbue issues in Israeli society with Torah learning. A community leader, activist, author and public speaker, Lau is also the head of the Human Rights and Judaism in Action Project at the Israel Democracy Institute.
Rabbi Lau is considered an Orthodox Israeli rabbi and ardent Zionist who is ultra-liberal and “not ashamed of it.” When told that “he thinks out of the box,” Rabbi Lau claimed that he is conventional. He maintains that he is “in the box” but there are many people who would like to push him outside because of his progressive views.
Tomer Persico, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a noted observer of the Israeli religious landscape, explained that “Lau has always been known as a liberal. What has changed is his willingness to make his voice heard loudly.”
By Yvette Finkelstein