Thursday, July 25, 2013

Religion and State in Israel - July 25, 2013 – Special edition on Chief Rabbi Election

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Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.

Anshel Pfeffer: "There is no hope for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Not as long as it is joined at the hip to politics, and not as long as Israelis are unwilling to liberate their Jewish heritage from the rabbis.

The post of chief rabbi was born in sin − the last vestige of the Ottoman Empire’s rule of Palestine that saw the Jews as a religious community and not a nation.

That sin was continued when the dual roles of Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbi were created, perpetuating ethnic discrimination and compounding it with every additional power and authority vested in the rabbinical establishment and courts that held in their hands the fate of converts, engaged couples and agunot.

With Yosef and Lau, the Chief Rabbinate will remain nepotistic, superfluous, gray, corrupt and irrelevant to Israeli society, free to bully the people who need its services.
Until the people rise up and demand that it be abolished, this is the rabbinate we deserve."

“Anybody who is going to be in a position of an institutionalized party within Orthodoxy is going to be very careful not to do anything too far-reaching that would lead others to the right of him to raise questions about his own legitimacy,” Rabbi David Rosen said. 

Since Orthodoxy is the only game in town, the ability of any chief rabbi to change the system “is greatly limited,” he asserted. Even if Stav had been elected, he would have not brought any fundamental reforms — “certainly not regarding religious pluralism or anything relating to Diaspora Judaism.”

Sure, Stav had pledged to make the rabbinate more “user-friendly,” more accessible to Israelis who are not Orthodox. That would have raised the institution’s reputation at home and abroad, but the Orthodox monopoly over life cycle events and issues of personal status would have persisted, Rosen claimed.

“Those who want to see a radical change will probably argue that Rabbi Stav’s appointment would be counterproductive because it would make the institution look far more friendly than in fact it is,” he said.

"The chief rabbinate is an atrophied body, corrupt to a large degree too," said Yedidia Stern, professor at Bar-Ilan University Law School. 

"But personally speaking, as an Israeli citizen and a religious Jew, I hope it is possible to rehabilitate the rabbinate. ... It can be part of our promise that Israel will be both Jewish and democratic without compromising either. Headed by the right person, it is an institution worth fighting for."

Stav told Army Radio on Thursday that "political forces" acted to secure Yosef's election, "in order to ensure the continuation of the family's Kashruth certification scheme."

Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Hiddush, had less kind words in response to the victory of Lau and Yosef, both ultra-Orthodox candidates, which he said “shows an unprecedented, low standing of this corrupt institution.”

A decade ago, Shas and United Torah Judaism took revenge against the National Religious Party for joining a coalition without haredi parties by taking away control of the institution most dear to religious Zionists: the Chief Rabbinate.

Ten years later, the haredim took revenge again for being left out of the government and its coffers, but this time the victory is much sweeter.

The chief rabbi elections, with all their skullduggery and plot twists, are surely of interest to the media – which needs to churn out news – but should it really interest you? Will the identity of the two rabbis elected today have any effect on the lives of Israelis and Jews around the world?

The time has come to restore the chief rabbinate to what it was meant to be: a religious-Zionist bridge over a gaping chasm between the secular community and the faithful.

Israel's chief rabbis traditionally serve as representatives of Judaism at state functions, manage Israel's religious services, and render religious rulings for the State. 

In an op-ed in Maariv, Yair Sheleg argues that since the chief rabbinate has failed in its performance of the latter two functions, it should serve solely in its representative capacity.

Secular Israeli Jews do not need another cadre of rabbis (male or female) seeking their own share of attention and other goodies. 

If getting along with the center of the Israeli Jewish spectrum is prominent in the goals of religious but non-Orthodox Jews from overseas and Israel, the way is not by clamoring for equality or a larger share of the Western Wall, rabbinical rights to wed or divorce the faithful, and along way accusing us of being undemocratic and other nasty things.

After years in which the chief rabbis have been met with a national yawn, the Chief Rabbinate race has turned into a popular reality show.

It is time to throw out the whole Rabbinate. This symbolic position represents more than its own corruption. It is a constant reminder that Jews in Israel lack the religious choices that Jews abroad enjoy. It reminds Israelis that there is only one recognized way to marry and divorce because there is only one recognized way to be Jewish.

By Rabbi Uri Regev

The answer is simple: Israel must stop giving rabbis, any rabbis [haredi, modern Orthodox or non- Orthodox], monopolistic or coercive authority. A rabbi’s authority and respect must come from the community that has chosen to accept him or her as their spiritual leader. 

I am by no means suggesting that Israel adopt the American model of complete separation of religion and state; Israel should be able to provide financial support for religious services in the same manner that cultural initiatives and sports are subsidized. But rabbis’ authority must come from their own voluntary communities and not be imposed by the state.

As mentioned, no political leader has dared violate the status quo, and most of the public views the Chief Rabbinate as a nuisance that has to be bypassed whenever possible. The image of the Rabbinate and of the establishment it heads has become so tarnished, that lately it appeared the time was nearing when everyone would realize it must be dismantled.

We will continue to be prisoners of the Chief Rabbinate on issues that should be our own private domain. An “accessible and pleasant institution” does not impose laws and customs on the entire community. True reform would enable all citizens of Israel to live their lives according to their faith – even secular Jews. And secularism is a system of belief no less profound than Judaism is.

How did the secular majority became a persecuted minority controlled by the religious establishment?

Stav says that it is for this reason that he is opposed to recognizing marriage and conversion of non-Orthodox denominations out of the fear that Jews in Israel will be split into different factions, some of which would be seen as non-Jewish by others, leading to profound and irrevocable societal division.

“If there won’t be one institute to be responsible for marriage and divorce and conversion, it will lead to a complete division and the tearing up [of] the Jewish society into pieces,” says Stav.

Outside of the issue of marriage and conversion, the rabbi says he is not necessarily opposed to the provision of state funds to non-Orthodox rabbis and denominations, although he is clearly not enthused by the idea.

“State funding of non- Orthodox rabbis is a question of government, because it is part of its relationship with its citizens. If this is what the government decides, then okay,” he says ambivalently.

Part of the Haredi, along with the Haredi-Leumi, leaders really think that only their reading of Orthodox Halakha is correct. They really are terrified that any change to the system, even a cosmetic change, will lead to the destruction of the Torah. Part of that fear is based on an ill-defined fata morgana that they call ‘Reform.’

The chief Rabbinate and religious Zionism have a long history of maintaining that a Jewish state must be committed to protecting the rights of its non-Jewish citizens.  A full restoration of the Chief Rabbinate to the Religious Zionist camp would result in the election of a candidate whose vision includes the humanistic tolerant values of its founders.

The right of "Jewish self-determination" is not the right of one Jew to determine for another what Judaism is, but the right to an open, public and unending debate. The chief rabbinate in this piece of land, I should add, was originally an invention of the Ottomans for managing the local Jews. It is a vestige of subjugation.

There's only one good candidate for chief rabbi, even if none of the 150 electors will make this choice: No one.

Is it possible - until that larger debate is resolved - for the Chief Rabbi to belong to a particular stream of Judaism and yet be admired and respected by a wide swath of the Jewish world? 

Is it possible for us to view the Chief Rabbi as an exemplary representative of Judaism even if he does not represent our brand of it? 

Is it possible in a sovereign Jewish state to reimagine the role of Chief Rabbi in which a figure of faith, by force of personality, intellect and sheer greatness, plays a role in nurturing a Jewish public space that transcends the divides in the Jewish world?

Realistically, campaign promises aside, couples who are denied marriage for real halachic reasons will continue to be denied. And there is no use promising easy conversion when converts whose conversions are not accepted in the modern-Orthodox world are a no-brainer, so that beyond promoting the religious Zionist conversion courts of Rabbi Haim Druckman, already recognized by religious Zionists, there is no revolution on the horizon.

As far as the secular people are concerned, the Chief Rabbinate only meddles in their lives when it comes to marriage and divorce. So why do you really care if the rabbi that marries you is a nationalist? Do any of you actually check up on the political leanings of the rabbi that performs your marriage or grants your divorce?

What has been going on is nothing short of a disgrace. If there ever was a public institution which has become totally discredited in the eyes of the people it is meant to serve, it is surely the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. 

Many are rightly asking: if this the depth to which this institution has sunk, is it perhaps time to seek an alternative mechanism by which religion can be organized in the State of Israel?

Had Rabbi Kook’s model of the rabbinate come into being, Israeli society and world Judaism would have been dramatically transformed. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Recognizing this is the first step toward fixing this sorry state of affairs. We hope that at least a modest step will be taken toward such a tikkun olam by the two newly elected chief rabbis.

  • What do the chief rabbis actually do?
  • Will we really see a revolution in the Rabbinate after the elections? What may still change despite all that?
  • Will it be easier to get married? And what about conversion? And burial?
  • Will the new chief rabbis allow Jews to go up to the Temple Mount?
  • What will change in the Rabbinic Courts?
  • Is there a chance the Rabbinic Courts will change their attitude toward women?
  • And what about women whose husbands refuse to give them a religious divorce (get)? 

Religion and politics are never far apart in the Promised Land, but a new intra-religious civil war with a characteristically Israeli mix of high-octane ideology and gutter-level politicking has lately been grabbing the headlines. Unseemly as the whole thing is, the conflict has at least one virtue: It is laying some fundamental questions of commitment and doctrine squarely on the table.

Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah’s petition sought to stop what the movement refers to as "the lawlessness in giving out rabbinical ordination certificates in general and city rabbi certificates in particular."

According to the petitioners, it has been revealed that hundreds of rabbis – many of them relatives or associates of Chief Rabbinate officials – received their rabbinical certificates in a shortened procedure, without taking any exams at all, and sometimes through short oral exams which have produced an almost 100% success rate.

Attorney General urges Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu to drop bid for Chief Rabbi in light of anti-Arab remarks

“Avraham, David, Moshe... What does it matter as long as he’s a Yosef?” (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Chief Rabbi race)

July 25, 2013 – Special edition on Chief Rabbi Election
If you are reading in email or RSS feed, please click here to read ONLINE
Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.