Election Of Haredi Chief Rabbis Will Backfire On Hardliners In Long Run
07/25/2013 - 12:58
Gary Rosenblatt

Ironically, the victory by the haredi candidates in this week’s election of the two chief rabbis in Israel may, in the long run, lead to a more liberal and open approach to religious life in the Jewish State.

Not because the two new chief rabbis, David Lau, son of former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and Yitzchak Yosef, son of former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, plan to loosen the institution’s grip on marriage, divorce and, perhaps most importantly, conversions. On the contrary, despite their pleasant personal manners, there is every indication they will maintain the policies of the previous haredi chief rabbis over the last two decades, alienating the great majority of Israelis with their rigid interpretations of Jewish law. And as a result, the institution of the chief rabbinate may well become increasingly irrelevant, and even discontinued by the time of the next scheduled election, a decade from now.

Rabbi David Stav, the “liberal” Religious Zionist candidate for the Ashkenazi post, was defeated by Rabbi Lau (by a tally of 68-54 among the committee of 147 rabbis and community leaders who vote). But his well-publicized campaign calling for a chief rabbinate that caters to the needs of the majority of Israelis, as well as to the Orthodox, had a positive impact in that it shed light on an election process that is arcane, and steeped in politics and nepotism, if not outright corruption. (Note that the two winners are sons of former chief rabbis whose influence in the voting was a major factor. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the powerful religious leader of the Shas party, had chosen another son to run, but he dropped out after a police investigation.)

The real losers here are the citizens of Israel and Jews throughout the diaspora who will continue to feel distanced from their religion. They will go on finding other ways to marry and divorce rather than go through a rabbinate more focused on patronage jobs than helping their fellow Jews. Perhaps most worrisome is that the hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking Israelis who are not Jewish will drift further away from the prospect of conversion under the ongoing rigid restrictions of the chief rabbinate.

If trends continue, the chief rabbis will oversee a society that has little respect for them or the narrow vision of Judaism they represent. The result will either be radical and much-needed reform of the institution and the election process, or a chief rabbinate so irrelevant and demeaned that it will fall victim to its shameful disregard for the concept of Clal Yisrael (Jewish unity).




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Gary, as a follow up to your article, could you give us a run down of who are the 147 rabbis and community leaders who chose the chief rabbis and how were they selected. In other words, who elected the electors? What groups in the were over and under represented by these 147 electors? I think that analysis would be helpful in understanding the vote. Thanks.

And you did nothing to help that distance except heep more scorn and derision on top of apathy where for many it is a life striving for holiness and self improvement according to the great character of so many great rabbis. What a wonderful way to use the pulpit you choose to abuse instead of using it to find what is admirable amongst those you choose to criticize so harshly.

Name one admirable quality that the Chief Rabbinate possess. The last 20 years of the Chief Rabbinate has brought us corruption on all levels. For the average Israeli dealing with the Rabbinate may be one of the worst experiences they have in life at a time when they are most vulnerable (death, marriage, divorce) and they are almost universally treated with derision. Time for a separation of State and Religion.

The people who really "disregard for the concept of Clal Yisrael (Jewish unity)" as the author writes, are in fact the people who reject Torah!

They want "treif" , but they won't get it from the Hareidim! So what is new? Let them ( the disregarders) instead "pull up their socks" ( do T'shuvah ) and stop complaining.

Judaism is not a religion, but a geographically-based nationality; Judaism outside the Land of Israel is an oxymoron. Flavor is correct when he says " If people wish to effect a change in Israel the only way to do it is through Aliyah."
That won't happen, of course, since American Jews would not even consider the discomforts and inconveniences of changing their way of life; it's far easier being an armchair general while 'playing Jew.'

Your comment about conversion is as vague as rabbi Stav's. Converison must be in accord wit Halacha and I have yet to hear a a valid solution proposed by ayone. Being a Russian in the army doesn't make you Jewish anymore than being a Jew in your heart makes you a Jew.

Exactly. Rabbi Stav and Gary Rosenblatt critcize but offer no solutions. In fact much of the criticism is a ruse to promote those movemnts which reject the Torah. I agree that being in the army doen't ans shouldn't changeJjewish law. These soldier's can live in Israel as non-Jews if they don't wish to convert. As far as conversion standards go. I would like to hear suggestions from recognized Orthodox rabbis.

Secular Israelis are not screaming for a more liberal mode of Judaism. Religion is not part of their lives The people who are upset by the results are Americans. Reform and Conservative rabbis have always been ashamed that the State of Israel does not recognize them as rabbis. If people wish to effect a change in Israel the only way to do it is through Aliyah. Many Israelis do grow frustrated with the paternal advise of Jews in Manhattan.

Flavor, you're not quite right that for secular Israelis, religion is not part of their lives. True, they generally do not daaven, keep kosher or observe Shabbat, but religion is very much part of their lives in that a good portion of the taxes they pay go to support a lifestyle that they do not choose to pursue themselves, they are compelled to fly to Cyprus and other locations to get married to some that they could not get married to in Israel, and they fight and sometimes die for the welfare of the state while their brothers dodge the draft. I am sure that many Israelis are frustrated by advise from Jews in Manhattan. I also know that many Israelis are frustrated (and, as the most recent elections showed), they are fed up and angry with the advise from Jews in Meah Shearim, Bnei Brock and... Brooklyn. That said, I do agree with you that it is hypocritical for us, myself included, to daaven for the return to Zion while we choose not making alyah.

Well, as long as the State of Israel is monetarily and militarily dependent on handouts from American Jews and the US Government, we American Jews (whether we are secular or religious, and not just living in Manhattan -- mind you) very much have a Right to give advise and to withhold our funds if our voices are not listened to and our position not taken into consideration seriously. It's not that simple considering the number of Jews who live in the USA. Furthermore, Israel does not have a monopoly on control of Judaism and the holy sites that belong to ALL Jews living in Israel or abroad. The sheer arrogance and cultural imperialism of the recent decade, along with a serious decline of democratic values in Israel is very much a matter of concern for all Americans and particularly those of us in the diaspora who will feel the wrath of policy changes that may not serve the better interests of both Israel and the United States.