Ensuring A New Direction for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate

Earlier this week, a story broke which sent shockwaves through the media and among many in the Israeli religious Zionist establishment.

Yet, for those of us who have observed the growing extremism within the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for some time, their announced intent to question the legitimacy of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was anything but shocking.

People are speaking of the incident surrounding Rabbi Riskin as perhaps the straw that will break the metaphorical camel’s back that is the Rabbinate’s quest for hegemony over Israeli religious life.

If there aren’t serious changes, then one must pray that this is indeed the case.

Let us take a step back for a moment and remind ourselves why the current Rabbinate has become so problematic for all those who are seeking out rabbinic leadership that recognizes and respects the legitimacy of every Jew under halacha and Israeli law.

Essentially, while rabbis should be independent of political or even social pressures, Israel’s Chief Rabbis and those who serve under them have essentially become political pawns of the haredi political machine. And while we would never suggest that there are not hundreds, if not thousands of well-intentioned and God-fearing rabbis who define themselves as haredi, there are also all too many who favor political power, influence and government funding over the best interests of preserving Israel’s Jewish identity.

Perhaps this statement comes as a shock to observers abroad who see a rabbi as a spiritual leader who should be immune to political pressures.

Certainly this SHOULD be the case. But certainly it is not.

The Chief Rabbinate is today in the hands of rabbis who rather than working for the good of all of the people of Israel favor one specific sector of the population.

Certainly, this is a somewhat concise review of a very complex situation which has developed over several decades where the rabbinate has become more political and Israeli society has become increasingly alienated from the influence of that Rabbinate.

But no one can deny the reality that the centralized Chief Rabbinate is an institution which no longer serves the best interests of the majority of the Jewish population of the people of Israel.

There is a well-known saying in Jewish teachings – Gam Zu LeTova – This too is for the best, whereby we can find the silver lining in even seemingly negative developments.

I would therefore suggest that perhaps we can find a positive in these deeply troubling developments surrounding Rabbi Riskin.

Specifically we must now work that much harder to find a way to return our Chief Rabbinate to the values of caring for all Jews upon which the institution was founded. Failure to do so will serve to the determinant of not only Israeli Jewry but indeed Jews all over the globe. Because if Israel loses its focus as a land for ALL Jews, then it will also lose its strength as the moral compass which inspires World Jewry.

Clearly this path will not be easy and it will not be without controversy. But, it is time that every Jew, regardless of the clothes they wear and whether they define themselves as dati, chiloni, haredi or other, recognizes that the status quo is both irresponsible and dangerous for our nation’s future.

This is a dialogue which must happen and with Hashem’s help it will happen and lead to a new understanding so that the Jewish future of Israel will be preserved for the benefit of all.

About the Author
Yakov Gaon serves as the Executive Vice President of Tzohar responsible for the development and foreign affairs for the organization. He previously served as a hi-tech executive. He lives in Shaalavim with his wife and children.