Is a Rabbinate consistent with Zionism?

Yesterday it was Orthodox rabbi Avi Weiss “excommunicated” by Israel’s Rabbinate. And the Rabbinic Council of America cried “foul” that the Israeli institution, apparently hijacked by the extremist anti-Zionist haredi fringe was, like an imperialist power of yore, seeking to control the lives of Diaspora Jewry. And now today.

America’s usually non-partisan regarding internal religious matters Anti-defamation League joined the chorus of protest against the Rabbinate overstepping the bounds of propriety and injecting itself as arbiter of legitimacy regarding Diaspora “Who is a Jew” identity. Israel’s Rabbinate is creating an ever-widening rift between the state of the Jews and our Diaspora inspired, if not engineered by an Israeli Orthodoxy trapped by its anti-Zionist fringe. 

In 1960 Israelis used to quip that the struggle between the Orthodox and the secular likely would erupt in a “kulturkampf.” And while open warfare between the camps has not come to pass (beyond some haredi “price tag” attacks on women and property) something as dangerous to the survival of a Zionist Israel is occurring before our eyes. Israeli Orthodoxy, with the possible exception of “modern Orthodoxy as Religious Zionism, has been hijacked by an anti-Israel haredi fringe. And while there is some reaction by secular Israelis and some response by the present “secular” coalition, the Rabbinate continues its power-grab over a Jewish identity now extending beyond Israel creating a division not just between streams of Judaism, but between the Zionist state and its Diaspora charge.

Our Diaspora has enough “survival” problems without a tiny and radical Israeli sect writing the nation outside Jewish identity altogether.

Our Diaspora has enough “survival” problems without a tiny and radical Israeli sect writing off the 90% of surviving Jews, the Jewish Nation, as outside Jewish identity altogether. And most hurtful is that the state created by that Diaspora is standing by and allowing this to happen!

The rabbinate’s assault on Israel’s Conversion Court decision back in 2008 was the writing on the wall. Rabbinate authority and influence should have been address at that time. Since that “victory,” disenfranchising tens of thousands of Israelis converted “according to Halacha,” but not quite “halachic” enough for the anti-Zionist radicals,

Israel is at a crossroads: will she remain dedicated to the role for which we created her, refuge for our threatened Diaspora: inclusive, secular and democratic homeland for ALL Jews regardless “degree of halachic observance (Herzl and Pinsker were “seculars,” and Ben-Gurion was definitely a nationalist non-believer!). Or will Israeli politics continue to pander to this extremist minority for obvious local political gain. To do so allows that anti-Zionist minority to determine Israel’s identity to the Diaspora, to create the impression of a hostile Israel to those it is sworn to protect.

The Rabbinate is an anachronism. Not just in terms of throwback to some never-existed medieval “idyllic” time but also as an invention of the Ottoman Empire. Time is long since past to shelve the institution. If a “Rabbinate” is determined useful as promoting a traditional and historic purpose then it should be allowed to survive; but in a non-intrusive form. Perhaps it could hold a place in Israel on par with Israel’s “Presidency:” ceremonial, but without real power. A “Rabbinate” could serve as a “Light unto the Nation,” but without the authority to impose the “light” on those electing a different life-style.

This is the essence and meaning of Zionist Israel as Refuge and Homeland to the Jewish People.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.
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