We Need Unity In The Bukharian Community

Rabbi’s Thoughts
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Unity. It’s what we have been dreaming about for years, because a community that is united is one with a very strong and bright future.

Through unity we can help motivate our youth to pursue a higher education, thereby tackling the issues of crime and drug abuse. We can help guide couples to flourish in their relationships, thereby lower the divorce rates. We can help families in need of assistance, thereby allowing everyone to live a life of comfort. Through unity, there are no limitations to what we can accomplish.

And so, step number one is for all our institutions and synagogues to work together.

Indeed, thanks to the dedicated work of our leaders, things have started to move in the right direction. Nearly two years ago, approximately 40 rabbis got together and agreed to work as one unit. They realized that the Bukharian community is suffering from too many problems and therefore they must all work together to find solutions.

They immediately formed an official rabbinical board, known as the Chief Bukharian Rabbinate of the United States and Canada. All the rabbis of the community were invited to join together and express their opinions as to how to improve the overall state of Bukharian Jewry in North America. Most rabbis attended in person while others who reside in far-flung states were informed of updates via social media.

The rabbis got together and had meeting after meeting, discussing community matters. It was a truly beautiful site. There were older rabbis sitting side by side with younger rabbis - some with very different views - all working together as one united front in order to take our community to the next level.

However, while most matters were agreed upon unanimously, there were some matters that led to disagreements. Thus, the rabbis realized they needed one man that to be the head of all the rabbis, to help make the final decisions on these delicate cases. But who would be the man in charge?

What are the criteria of a chief rabbi? What makes one a worthy candidate?

If there would be a list of the three main things, they would probably be the following:

  1. A) That he be a rabbi of extraordinary Torah knowledge and have broad shoulders to apply that knowledge in “real time.”
  2. B) That he be a rabbi who is accepted and revered by the rabbis of the community he represents.
  3. C) That he be a humble person who does not seek to get the position of chief rabbi for honor and fame.

The search in our case was seemingly not too difficult. The man chosen as the Chief Rabbi of the Bukharian community was none other than Rabbi Yitzchak Yisraeli. Rabbi Yisraeli is known as one of the greatest Torah scholars in the United States, and when initially offered the position, he immediately refused! Once he was told that he was needed in order to guide the rabbis of the community and improve the future of our youth, he reluctantly agreed. Indeed, it is Rav Yisraeli’s Torah knowledge and humility that made him the rabbis’ choice.

For those who aren’t aware, Rabbi Yisraeli has been part of the Bukharian community for 18 years! He has served as a rabbinical judge and as a dean of higher rabbinical and Talmudic studies. His name is not so recognizable to many of the community members for one reason. Some people do very little but run after publicity and therefore create a perception that they have accomplished a lot. Others, like Rabbi Yisraeli, accomplish a tremendous amount, yet run away from the spotlight - so most people aren’t even aware of their great achievements. The fact that Rabbi Yisraeli has been part of the Bukharian community for nearly two decades and has remained under the spotlight further proves his great humility.

It is for this reason that all the rabbinical leaders of the Bukharian community, headed by Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Haim and Rabbi Igal Haimoff, chose Rabbi Yisraeli as the Chief Rabbi of the entire Bukharian community in the USA and Canada.

And so, as this historic decision was made, the newly formed Chief Rabbinate began to work on various community issues. Some were tough. Some were easy. Some have yet to be touched.

But something didn’t smell right over the past few months. While the infrastructure of the rabbinate was being set, the unity of the community was unfortunately being broken by several individuals who put their personal interests ahead of the community at large. Upon suspecting a rebellion, the rabbinical leaders sat down with these individuals and extended their hands in peace. While these individuals gave the impression that they are in pursuit of peace, it turned out that behind the scenes they were working tirelessly by spreading false information to community leaders in the US and in Israel in order to take control of matters that they have no expertise in dealing with.

While the Chief Bukharian Rabbinate looked to take care of this matter quietly, unfortunately, the other side was publicizing false information, and this matter could no longer remain hidden from the public. Therefore, a proclamation was recently published with the signatures of our leading rabbis, proclaiming that R’ Baruch Babaev’s so-called appointment as Chief Rabbi of the Bukharian Jews in America and Canada was done via trickery and that he is not accepted by our rabbinical leadership.

R’ Babaev and his employers from the Bukharian Congress in New York were warned to stop imposing their will upon the rabbis of the community, yet they have been stubborn in their pursuit of honor and glory, thereby putting the community at large in an extremely uncomfortable situation.

At one point, Babaev publicized that he has the support and written endorsement of Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel.

In order to get clarity on the situation, the Chief Bukharian Rabbinate of the USA and Canada sent a letter to Rav Yitzchak Yosef expressing their concern on this matter. In response, Rav Yosef made it very clear that he never approved the appointment of Babaev and if anyone says he did then they are simply publicizing false information. Furthermore, Rav Yosef stated that had Babaev really received his endorsement as Chief Bukharian Rabbi, Babaev would have an official written letter signed by Rav Yosef, which does not exist.

In light of this and some other developments which cannot be shared with the broader public at this time, the Chief Bukharian Rabbinate of the USA and Canada requested that R’ Baruch Babaev and his employers stop the friction that is truly harming the community at large. To be qualified as Chief Rabbi in a community, the rabbinical leaders of that very community need to give their approval and support. Otherwise, the appointment will not be accepted. Thus, even if respected scholars from other countries or businessmen from various locations sign a letter approving of Babaev or any other individual, it will be rejected by the Chief Rabbinical body here in the USA and Canada.

In conclusion, all we can do as laymen is hope and pray for peace. We beg our community leaders to please work together in putting an end to this unfortunate situation. Let’s recognize that the prerequisite for a Chief Rabbi is extraordinary Torah knowledge and being accepted by the rabbinical leaders of the community he represents!! If the rabbis of your community reject you, then you are not fit for the position! Most importantly, the individual should be one who runs away from honor, not one who pursues honor. Indeed, the one candidate who fits the bill is none other than Rabbi Yitzchak Yisraeli. Oseh shalom bimromav, hoo ya’aseh shalom aleinu……Amen!