A WEDDING IN ISRAEL,
LESS THAN A YEAR AGO:
A young, secular Israeli couple I know got married. Both olim from Russia, both halakhically Jewish by the standards of the Israeli Rabbinate, they are both mostly ignorant of Jewish religious tradition. They decided to get married via the Rabbinate because they were unaware of the alternatives, and felt it would be easiest to get married through the standard channels.
The young man bought his wife-to-be a gold ring for the wedding, understanding that the Jewish wedding ceremony requires the groom to give his bride a ring. Nobody at the Rabbinate bothered explaining the halakhot of the wedding ceremony to him, and he purchased a ring with a gemstone, which is halakhically forbidden (Even HaEzer 31:2).
Unfortunately, this only came to light at the ceremony itself, as the rabbi first met the young couple at their chuppah, having arrived late to their wedding. At the behest of this rabbi, the young husband-to-be suffered the indignity of consecrating his wife unto him with a 10 shekel coin instead of the beautiful wedding ring he had painstakingly chosen. This representative of the Israeli rabbinic establishment then unabashedly proceeded to request payment from the newlyweds for his services, which they had already paid for at the Israeli Rabbinate offices.
A CIRCUMCISION CEREMONY IN ISRAEL,
SEVERAL YEARS AGO:
A secular acquaintance of my family who is not Jewish according to the standards of the Israeli Rabbinate wanted her future children to have all the rights and privileges of being Jewish Israelis, and began studying for conversion through the Rabbinate. She and her husband never intended to become halakhically observant, but she knew of many other people in Israel who converted to Judaism via the Israeli Rabbinate with a wink and a nod.
The game of deceit begins with the preparation course… which requires the study of Halakha at a level of detail that the majority have no intent of observing… Moreover, the conversion courts… demand… a formal statement which, for most… is an outright lie – “I accept upon myself to keep and observe all of the laws of the Torah, all of the Rabbinic laws, and all of the religious traditions of the Jewish people.” Yet it is known to… the judges… that the large majority of converts do not intend to be religiously observant… As such, the Chief Rabbinate’s conversion program… encourages deceit…
In this case, the woman’s first child was born before she had completed her conversion, and a mohel associated with her program arrived to perform the brit milah. Her son had to be converted at his circumcision because she had not converted herself.
The rabbi called me over to “witness” the boy’s brit milah because I was the only male present who looked religious. Not yet knowing the full story of the incomplete conversion, and not realizing that the child had not been born halakhically Jewish, I was confused by the need for a witness to the event; but I obliged. Upon witnessing the brit milah and hearing the rabbi’s words I understood: I had been made a “kosher” witness to a conversion ceremony.
The rabbi then turned towards the attendees. Whereas I had expected some endearing words directed at the mother and her child, the rabbi had other ideas. For ten minutes after the circumcision ceremony, he pontificated to us about the Rabbinate’s holy and religiously authentic approach towards conversion, and the illegitimacy of the parallel program run by the National Religious rabbis of the IDF.
I was flabbergasted.
If converting an infant born into a secular family to a mother who hadn’t completed her conversion process (she ended up dropping out of the conversion program shortly thereafter) was halakhically legitimate, how could this rabbi claim the moral high ground over any other conversion program? And what gall the man had to moralize to us from his soapbox at a private brit milah ceremony!
THE NONFICTION STORY OF JEWISH LIFE IN ISRAEL,
The above stories are true, sadly, and most Israelis’ experiences with the rabbinic establishment are neutral at best. Due to the Rabbinate’s monopoly over Jewish religious services in Israel, the institution has no incentive to make Judaism beautiful or compelling.
The ultra-Orthodox sector of Israel, drowning in ever-increasing, self-imposed poverty and knowing that thousands of jobs exist in “the system”, has taken run of the Rabbinate over the years; and resisted all reforms intended to make Jewish resources more humanly and practically accessible to the public.
When the Knesset passed a law in 2013 to decentralize marriage registration, thereby making the process easier to navigate and client friendly, the Rabbinate sought ways to delay its implementation. When the government enacted an order in 2014 to decentralize Israel’s conversion courts, hoping to make the system more approachable and accessible, the Rabbinate obstructed its implementation also, planning for the Haredi parties to rejoin the next government coalition after the pending elections, contingent upon the rescinding of this progressive, people-oriented, political reform.
This is not a story about the corruption of the Israel Rabbinate, nor a story about religious coercion and the damage it does to Judaism. This is a story about an Israeli Rabbinate that will fight to the end to maintain its stranglehold on Jewish life, manipulating Israeli politics not to serve the citizenry, but for economic resources and ideological hegemony.
These are nonfiction stories… but halevai (would only) that they were to be found in historical fiction and suspense novels, rather than history books and newspapers.
So who will author the forthcoming chapters?