This is a time with the many challenges facing Israel that American Jewish support for the Jewish state is more important than ever. Among those challenges are the Iranian nuclear program, the pressures of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the ever-present delegitimization and boycott campaigns against Israel, and the radicalization, violence and instability in the region.
The last thing that is needed in this difficult environment is more divisive actions by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to further alienate many American Jews from Israel.
It has long been noted that Conservative and Reform Jews in America have had issues with Israel because of the Chief Rabbinate’s attitude toward and exercise of power to restrict those movements in Israel. It is a credit to both groups that they have not allowed their understandable resentment of their second-class status to diminish their commitment to Israel or deflect their support for Israel’s security. Still, one should not be complacent about this for the future.
Now, rather than seeking ways to ameliorate concerns of millions of American Jews, the Chief Rabbinate has taken steps which threaten to expand, rather than narrow, the divide between Israel and American Jews.
In what should have been a routine matter of an American Orthodox rabbi, Avi Weiss, affirming the Jewishness of a couple seeking to marry in Israel, the Chief Rabbinate has challenged it by questioning the Orthodox bona fides of Rabbi Weiss.
This questioning of the status of an Orthodox rabbi is disturbing on its own. Even more disturbing are indications that this is part of a developing trend, as reports are emerging that there are as many as nine other long-established Orthodox rabbis who may be treated the same way as Rabbi Weiss.
The willingness of the Chief Rabbinate to accept unsubstantiated allegations from unnamed rabbinic sources in the U.S. about Rabbi Weiss and others suggests in the strongest ways that the Chief Rabbinate is solely determined to have its narrow view of what it means to be Orthodox prevail over reason, fairness and widely accepted practice.
When these steps are added to the longstanding exclusion of the Reform and Conservative denominations, one must treat with skepticism and disdain the Rabbinate’s claim that they are interested in the unity of the Jewish people. There is nothing which does more to promote disunity between Jews in Israel and elsewhere as the actions of the Chief Rabbinate.
On a fundamental level, the Rabbinate approach threatens to alienate many young Jews from considering a connection to Judaism in whatever form. While there are differences between many Orthodox rabbis and Conservative and Reform rabbis, both are now under attack from the counterproductive policies of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
For the sake of religion itself, for the sake of strengthening support of Israel by American Jews, for the sake of trying to attract young Jews to Judaism and Israel, it is time for the Chief Rabbinate to reverse its trend and truly begin a process to unite, rather than divide, the Jewish people.