Yoni Zierler

Losing My Faith

Part of what I love about Israel is the importance that religious Jewish life plays in society. My non-religious friends might not like this, but I’ll be honest for a moment:

I love the fact that there are no buses in Jerusalem on Shabbat.

Growing up in America, I used to spend my Saturdays in synagogue while the rest of the neighborhood headed out to ball games, concerts, and various other activities.  Jerusalem’s quiet streets give me the feeling that I am finally part of the norm.

For similar reasons I love the fact that a non-kosher restaurant in Jerusalem feels out of the ordinary, and that I no longer have to worry on a constant basis if I need to paper bag it to an event or party.

At one point in my life, I also loved the fact that Israel had a chief rabbi. The Jewish answer to the Pope! Someone to look up to- to revere and trust with the big decisions that need to be made in Jewish life. What a thrill it was for me in 11th grade to have had the opportunity to offer words of Torah in the presence of one of Israel’s former chief rabbis and sit next to him for dinner.

I wish this still held true.

This morning, one of my non-observant friends shared a facebook status written by Zahava Gal-On (MK and Meretz Party chairwoman) who decried the entire process of choosing a chief rabbi:

“The chief rabbinate is a corrupt and nepotistic institute, which uses the public’s money to promote homophobia and the exclusion of women and none of the candidates plan to change this…. Two streams of Orthodoxy, with no interest in promoting a progressive and pluralist Judaism, fighting for power, jobs, and money…. We must separate between religion and state; cancel the governmental stature of the chief rabbinate and stop funding it…”

To say that I agree with Gal-On completely would be a stretch. I believe that Rabbi David Stav, though maybe not the most cutting edge and revolutionary rabbi, would have indeed provided us with at least the basis for a change.

She has a point though.

Over the past year, I noticed that my non-religious friends are often wary of anything that smells vaguely of “religion” or “Orthodoxy”. The “Dosophobia” that exists in Israel today pains me, but what hurts even more is that I understand why my friends feel this way.

The rabbinate controls their Saturdays, dictates to their restaurants, and forces itself into the most intimate part of their lives- marriage. Beautiful traditions have been force-fed to the public, and little effort has been made to reach out to those whose opinions differ from that of the rabbinate and make them feel that this heritage belongs to them as well.

Over the past ten years, the rabbinate has failed to listen and serve both secular and religious Israelis alike. The fact that when I get married, my father- a community rabbi in the United States ordained by the Orthodox Yeshiva University- is not considered “kosher” enough by the Israeli rabbinate’s standards is ridiculous. This has nothing to do with halacha (Jewish religious law) and religion. It is a matter of politics, of keeping power in the hands of certain people with a certain mindset, whose actions brew anger, spite, and hate, among the people.

A little over a week ago, we commemorated the Temple’s destruction. Jewish children grow up with the knowledge that “needless hate led to the second Temple’s destruction.” Unfortunately, not enough adults are taught that there is a continuation to this valuable lesson on treating others the way you’d like to be treated.

It wasn’t just hatred, it was a lack of proper spiritual leadership.

During the time of the second Temple, the High-Priesthood was often sold by the Roman’s to the highest bidder (as opposed to the most worthy candidate), and priests stabbed each other for the right to sacrifice. The situation deteriorated so much that when granted one wish by the Emperor, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai chose to sacrifice Jerusalem and the Temple for the city of Yavneh and her scholars. He realized that the Temple was no longer the great spiritual center of the Jewish people, rather a facade forced to hide the sins of those inside of it.

While it is hard for me not to judge people favorably, Rabbi David Lau’s comments against Rabbi Stav’s platform of change worry me. Rabbi Lau claims to be a rabbi who is capable of speaking with many different types of rabbis, but I worry that he will not be able to speak to those who really matter- the people.

Zahava Gal-On charged this morning that we are dealing with two streams of Orthodoxy, and though I very rarely agree with her, in my opinion this is exactly the problem. We are taught that there are 70 faces to the Torah, a wide variety of Judaism, not just two streams! Yet today, like Gal-On and others, I feel that my face is no longer represented by the State’s rabbis.

Though I have lost my faith in an institute, I have not lost my faith. From now on my religion is between myself and G-d – the way it’s supposed to be. And if I need a little bit of help, there are plenty of other rabbis to turn to. I can only hope that with their assistance and vision we will ensure that these next ten years will not be free of change.







About the Author
Yoni Zierler is the chief tour guide and Director of “Discover," the tourism department of StandWithUs – an international, non-profit and non-partisan Israel education organization that works to inspire and educate people of all ages about Israel, as well as challenge misinformation and fight against antisemitism. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Yoni immigrated to Israel for his last year of high-school, and subsequently served (with excellence) in the IDF. A lover of history, books, and music, Yoni is happily married to Yochi and the proud father of Golan Noam and Klil Eden.