Ben Waxman

Destroying the Mishkan, again

He can’t quite claim that Israel’s Rabbinate is rife with corruption, but it’s far from a model for Torah ethics

And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.

And his sons walked not in his ways, but went for the money, took bribes, and perverted justice.

Do these verses sound familiar? They should. Besides being in the Book of Samuel, they describe what is going on in today’s Rabbinate.

  • One (former) chief rabbi of the State of Israel, Yona Metzger, will be going to prison for various felonies.
  • A second (former) chief rabbi, Bakshi Doron, is under felony indictment for selling phony rabbinic certifications.
  • The current chief rabbi of a major city has been indicted for blackmail, fraud, and breach of trust. Despite that nasty predicament, Avraham Yosef refuses to vacate his seat. (Contrast that level of behavior with that shown by a former army general who resigned, on the spot, when it was revealed that he violated a security rule).

The above are stories that actually made it to the courts. Another chief rabbi saw no problem in demanding payment, in cash, for performing weddings, none of which was reported to the tax authorities.

Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there, a few super rotten apples. A few days ago, it was revealed that the General Counsel of the Ministry of Religious Services attempted to have the rabbi of Kfar Saba, Rabbi Avraham Shalosh, removed from his office. Apparently, Rabbi Shalosh, in violation of the rabbinates regulations, doesn’t live in Kfar Saba. Why? Because his health is so poor that he needs to stay at his home in Jerusalem (another violation of regulations, by the way) for most of the week. He manages to get to the office once a week, for an hour or two.

So what’s the big deal? Why not give an elderly rabbi a break and allow him to serve out his days in peace? Because the issue goes beyond this one rabbi and his kavod (honor). David Azoulai, the Shas MK in charge of the ministry has so far successfully fought off attempts to have Rabbi Shalosh kicked out. Why? According to reports in the Hebrew press, Azoulai has been pressured by people involved in kashrut supervision to leave the rabbi alone. One doesn’t have to be a genius to understand what that means. However, for those who don’t get it, I’ll just say that I’d hesitant to eat or drink anything more complicated than a cup of coffee in Kfar Saba.

While it may seem that kicking elderly rabbis out of office is cruel and unfeeling, leaving them in office when they are unable to leave home does nothing to build respect for that rabbi. Further, it proves what the enemies of the Rabbinate claim: If someone so feeble can serve as a city rabbi, we don’t need city rabbis.

The Rabbinate is currently under attack from all directions. However, its biggest problem isn’t this or that lawsuit or Women of the Wall or challenges to its kashrut monopoly, or even some very problematic halachic rulings. The Rabbinate’s biggest problem is the Rabbinate. I cannot state that the Rabbinate is rife with corruption (or enabling corruption) and nepotism (it isn’t a coincidence that quite a few city rabbis have the same names as other city/state rabbis (or even worse – as government ministers (here and here). In fact, that would probably be a gross exaggeration. Having said that, however, these issues passed the comfort long, long ago.

Supposedly Rav David Lau has been trying to clean things up. I don’t know how successful he’s been, but so far Avraham Yosef and Bakshi Doron still serve on the Rabbinate’s governing council. That factoid alone says enough.

Nothing will destroy the Rabbinate faster than corruption. Back to Samuel. When the Children of Israel got fed up with his sons’ antics, they didn’t ask for “better judges.” They went for the most secular of all institutions — a king. One doesn’t need to be a prophet to know what it means for the Torah world for Yonah Metzger to walk into prison. A prison converting to Judaism may make for a cute TV episode; a rabbi wearing orange doesn’t. Pinchas couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see what his sons were doing. That ended in the destruction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). We had better not make the same mistake.

PS: In case you’re wondering, I didn’t use the title “rabbi” with several of the people mentioned in this piece. I have a policy: anyone indicted on felony charges loses his rabbi title.

PPS: I have absolutely nothing against Rabbi Shalosh. I have never met the rav, but I have no doubt that he is a talmid chacham, scholar, dedicated to his job, and someone who in the past gave his all to his community. Nothing that I wrote here should be seen as an attack on Rav Shalosh.

About the Author
Ben Waxman was born in the US and served as a Peace Corps volunteer. He lived in the Jerusalem area for decades and now resides in the Shomron.
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