Gedalyah Reback

A Chief Rabbi that can battle the Pope

The Jewish people need a Chief Rabbi that can be a global religious leader who can stand on the same stage as the popes and bishops of the world.

The Rabbanut, for all the complaints I and several thousand others have against it, is a blessing. It’s obviously what we make of it, and right now it is not a tool we are utilizing for the good of the Jewish people. However, that such an institution exists is an opportunity of strategic importance for all of global Jewry. When we talk making changes to the Rabbinate, we shouldn’t be cosmetic.

This is a tremendous opportunity to create a unifying power that leverages all of Jewry’s spiritual assets. Dissolving it would ruin a chance to have a body to turn to for the Jewish perspective on global events. A reinvigorated rabbinate would be one that is dominated by the most respected rabbis in the world, with a Chief that would not just sit next to the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury on a world religions panel but also completely outdo them at the podium.

I do not hesitate to say that the Vatican makes Judaism’s leadership look puny and petty. The Rabbinate has no serious desire for strategically bridging gaps between different Jewish denominations and getting them to focus on common goals. The Pope manages to command respect despite his obvious and public disagreement with major social trends.

Even the most conservative of ultra-Orthodox Jewish authorities can combine mutual respect, charisma and scholarship to garner that sort of honor in the name of Judaism just as well as any leader in any other religion.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.  (photo credit: Flash90)
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. (photo credit: Flash90)

People talk often about having a single Chief Rabbi to end the arbitrary division between Sephardic and Ashkenazic titles. That does not resolve the Rabbinate’s failure to improve Judaism’s observance worldwide though, and still creates a number of bureaucratic nightmares when it clashes with the Ministry of Interior on someone’s marriage or the Ministry of Absorption when a convert wants to move to Israel.

The new Chief Rabbinate should not be focused on Israeli domestic policy, but be a diplomatic position charged with overcoming a number of acrimonious divisions in the global Jewish community.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of what powers the Rabbanut should lose and which it should gain, consider what Judaism lacks.

Pope Francis commands a flock of millions and grabs the ears of people who are not even Catholic. Yet, Judaism’s chief leaders squabble in the media when they could present a leader of equal magnitude. (photo credit: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

In an ideal scenario, Judaism would have a president of a Sanhedrin and a head of the court. Alongside these monumental figures would be the Chief Cohen, whose function was altogether different. Without venturing into my wish to see these positions empowered in their traditional function once again, those three roles were spiritually unmatched among the Jewish people. In today’s modern world, it would be a magnificent chance to have people who can reach out to Jews and non-Jews alike in their capacities as global religious leaders.

The Chief Rabbi would be charged with a global agenda, entrusted with a position that demands creativity and strategic prowess: finding compromise between Jewish groups where it is possible and building up the most authority of a global religious office.

Right now, Israel’s two Chief Rabbis are sources of embarrassment and acrimony. Their scholarship is overshadowed by the obvious political nature of their roles. It is a sad state of affairs where they are pushing agendas unrelated to global events or fostering an appreciation of Jewish religion.

It is time the Jewish people had a strong Chief Rabbi that everyone could point to as a mensch, as a champion of the people who understands the people’s divisions and loves them anyway. That is not what we hear from the Chief Rabbinate’s office today, and it is a damn shame.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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