There are some recurring musical anthems for those of us of a certain age. A 1971 song penned by Pete Townshend may very well be one of the most persistent having been performed by the Who in a variety of versions and covers and even used as the opening theme for a television show. It seems especially resonant now as it applies to what has happened in the election or perhaps it should be called appointment of the two new chief rabbis. First some background – those who follow this sort of thing know that Mr. Townshend said just a few years ago about his song “We won’t get fooled again” that this particular song was only minimally about revolution. It was written more as a statement of how he viewed himself – that his morals and ethics could not be compromised. In fact he would not let the song be used in the context of anything that might contribute to a revolution.
So why is this particular song repeating in my head over and over since I heard the results of the Chief Rabbi appointments? And, not only for me – several people I spoke with used the same exact lines from this song that I keep hearing, when we spoke of the results. I think that there are a few key lines in this composition that echo sentiments about the tenacious political hold that defines the Chief Rabbinate. The first line is “the morals that they worship will be gone.” It goes without saying that the overwhelming number of Israelis seem to be questioning the need for a Chief Rabbinate, especially since it has taken such a rigid, inflexible position for the last twenty years. It has also been sullied by charges of corruption and illegal behaviors in recent years. The morals that rabbinic leaders should stand for and perpetually worship seem to be gone, waylaid by power and politics, not the best interest of those being served. “And the beards have grown longer overnight” another line in the song also strikes a knowing nod, though the original intent was not quite the same. The selection and voting resulted in two men who have a legacy and strong ties with the “long beards” of the Hareidi world. This dynastic approach to meeting the religious needs of everyone in the country gives the impression that there is little interest in actually doing just that. While Rabbi David Lau is Chief Rabbi in a very mixed city, assuming the mantle of the Chief Ahkenazi Rabbi may make him beholden to the Hareidi right. That is yet to be seen but the assumption that “his beard has grown longer overnight” may not be erroneous. Rabbi Isaac Yosef is the son of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef – wasn’t he present when a vast number of his religious co-religionists were called Amalek? He did not offer a retraction as far as I can tell.
This brings us to the most important line of the song – When we are dealing with power, politics and the protection of a dynasty – “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”