Shlomo Ezagui

A coercive Chief Rabbinate?

A friend sent me an article written by a rabbi who once lived in Florida and now heads a modern Orthodox institution in Israel. The article upset me because it made accusations and presented problematic points in what I see as somewhat untruthful and incorrect.

He says in his article,

“The rabbinate’s processes (in Israel) can often be coercive and onerous.” And…. “In too many cases, rather than understanding and seeing non-Orthodox or non-formally religious populations as their equals, the state rabbinate sees them as a weak link in the chain of Judaism — people who need to be told what to do, and how to do it.”

Is it because the office of the Rabbinate (which is there for precisely that purpose) sets standards for the overall population of the Jewish State, for people who might not be informed of those rules, and for others who request and require those standards from these institutions, we label them coercive and onerous?

Is the health authority’s establishment in Israel “coercive and onerous” because they have certain (hopefully high) standards expected from all their clinics and medical establishments?

Should we abolish the health and tax authorities and rely on people’s goodwill to run proper health clinics and pay their fair share of taxes?

It always amazes me how the biggest fabrications come from the mouths of those who proclaim they are upholding the truth. The people who have the need to proclaim they are for peace many times are the biggest reason for the lack of it.

Let us take the following paragraph:.

“I don’t need to compromise my halachic standards in order to be respectful of others. For example, I have never prayed in an egalitarian prayer space, yet I understand why it is important that, near the current formal Western Wall plaza, the most holy place we have, there be a separate agreed-upon area where men and women can pray together if they choose.”

If this Rabbi wants to announce he is committed to halachic standards, how can you “Understand” (in other words, be accepting) of an egalitarian place for prayer!!!

You are surely aware that not even ONE halachic authority allows men and women to pray together in a public official place of prayer. In addition, there is a law(s) against enabling, supporting, ignoring, or the need to rebuke those who do something wrong.

So how can a halachic observing person, not to mention a Rabbi, in any way, endorse and, worse yet, find it acceptable to understand this practice within the confines of Jewish observance? Right by the holiest site for the Jewish people!?

The article includes another example of “Understanding” and tolerance, with the following;

“When I officiate a wedding, I must, by Israeli law, ask the bride for a receipt proving she went to a mikvah, or ritual bath, before the ceremony, as commanded by halacha, or religious law. Ideally, I wish this receipt were not required, and that I could just trust the bride to use her judgment; I believe it is enough for me to have spoken with the couple before the wedding about the importance of using the mikvah, and given them contact information for such a facility.”

Interestingly, you “wish you could just trust the bride to use her judgment” regarding the mikvah.

This Rabbi knows very well that consummating a marriage without going to a mikvah is a very terrible sin. It is harmful for both the groom and the bride. Besides the question I probed above, ‘there is a law(s) against enabling, supporting, ignoring, or the need to rebuke those who do something wrong’.

How can a halachic observing person, not to mention a Rabbi, in any way, turn the other cheek so glibly and casually to something as serious as perhaps the chance the bride actually decided not to go to the mikvah?

When Jewish people come to a Rabbi, an Orthodox Rabbi who observes Halacha, deep down, that’s really what they want. They want to be married or at least recognized as having been married according to the laws of God Almighty.

Would you suggest someone eat in a restaurant where you just “trusted” the owner to do the right thing—and that he does everything according to law because he took a one-hour course on how to maintain a kosher establishment? Would you mislead the owner himself to think he is doing everything with your endorsement and stamp of approval because you trust his judgment?

Would you participate, and enable a life and death procedure based solely on the “trust” of someone you barely know and just received a one or two -hour counseling on how to do things right?

For us Jews Judaism is a life and death issue. It IS our life it is our identity. It means everything about who we are.

Once, the great Rabbi of Luchovitsh had a student named R’Yoel. They lived in the territory of a Polish nobleman who greatly respected R’Yoel for his honesty and wisdom. This Polishman would many times invite R’Yoel to his great galas at his palace.

Once, the students asked R’Yoel, “When you go to these parties, and everyone is dressed to the hilts, and you go there with your tzitzis hanging out and dressed the way you are, aren’t you embarrassed to appear that way?”

R’Yoel answered surprisingly and with fervor, “Embarrassed?? This is who, I AM.”

Quoting Maimonides (in his article) as if he would support the position of “live and let live” in matters of Jewish law is a most preposterous and disingenuous position to make. Maimonides is filled with the authentic rules of our Torah, which is to establish, enforce, and protect, in any and every way possible, the laws of our Holy Torah.

Maimonides personally fought strenuously against the Karaites in his neighborhood.

The fact that in Israel, very differently than in the USA, more Jews do more traditional practices is only because the atmosphere is filled with observant Jews and those who practice and uphold the traditions of our ancestors and because there are Jewish standards instituted with basic expectations in Israel.

In those neighborhoods in Israel (which I don’t want to mention) where Jewish Tradition is mocked and the standards of Jewish tradition are not respected and/or enforced, those high statistics quoted in your article on Jewish practices are way lower.

In other words, if things were left up to people, as you propose, we know only too well that self-regulation rarely works, particularly among many people.

This conversation explores the laissez-faire attitude promoted in today’s society, which suggests that we should accept everyone “as is.”

When boundaries are not set, it should be expected that people will push the envelope to extremes. And why not? No one said or was ever taught where too far exists.

Yes, our brothers and sisters should be encouraged to do the right thing in a positive and loving way. Everyone should have the right to choose how and what they want to observe in their own lives.

Our Torah says we should “always accentuate the loving hand over the strict hand,”  but let’s not be so open-minded that our brains fall out of our heads.

PS Here is a link to the article.

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" ( & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" ( In 1987, Rabbi Ezagui opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the island of Palm Beach, Florida.
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