Michael Boyden
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Keep it in the Family

The appointment of two heirs to the chief rabbinate dynasty is infuriating, but ultimately signifies pretty much nothing

What could be more fitting than the fact that in the very week in which Princess Kate gave birth to Prince George of Cambridge, third in line to the throne, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi David Lau should have been elected as the new chief rabbis of Israel following in the footsteps of their respective fathers?

By strange coincidence both of these haredi victors in the chief rabbinate contest received exactly the same number of votes, which leads one to suspect that, rather than being an open, democratic election, the choice of these two gentlemen reflected the well-known adage of “you take care of me and I’ll take care of you.”

It should be recalled that the very institution of the Israeli chief rabbinate is non-Jewish in origin. It was only during the period of the British Mandate that the High Commissioner established the post with the first incumbents being appointed in 1921.

Whereas our tradition has always held the outstanding rabbis of each generation in high esteem, the chief rabbinate is an appointment that does not necessarily reflect anything other than the political and, in this case, family connections of the incumbents.

It is interesting to note that Judaism manages to thrive in North America without there being even one chief rabbi, never mind two! The aversion to the religious establishment that one senses in Israel is unparalleled anywhere in the world and has succeeded in alienating many Israelis from their Jewish heritage.

Even Rabbi David Stav, who was a contender for the post and received 54 votes, is reported to have commented that “a group of political activists who have no connection with Israeli society and the State of Israel has managed to defeat the spirit of the Jewish People.”

He may have overstated the case, because there are vast numbers of Israelis who have turned their backs on the Rabbinate and are living out their Jewish lives perfectly happily in alternative religious frameworks. Yosef and Lau may each have received 68 votes, but many Israelis are voting with their feet.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.