It may be hard to see from outside the Israeli borders, but in the 90 years of its existence, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has never been a bigger obstacle in the Jewish way of life.
While Tel-Aviv’s secular population is slowly but surely flocking into Kabbalah centers and new-age flavored “Modern Judaism” institutes, Israel’s official state-mandated orthodox practices is having none of that. The diehards are bringing down the actual law on any form of conciliation between 2,000 year old ceremonies and observances with 21st century beliefs and ideas, mainly on women’s role and position in the wedding ceremony and married life. While the “Tzohar” group got a foothold in the more modern couples, what they are actively fighting now are groups like “Havaya” whose services are “an ongoing discussion between tradition and renewal”. In a 2013 correction to a marriage-related law, the Rabbanut delivered a powerful blow – marriage without rabbinate approval can carry a 2-year sentence to not only the married couple, but also to the person conducting the ceremony. While more and more countries accepting same-sex marriage and women’s rights movements and ideals push for a more equal wedding, Israel’s official stance is unmoved.
Another clash is centered around who can convert to Judaism and even what defines a Jew. Quite recently, some changes to the use of generally-funded mikvahs expose some of the hate and disdain the Rabbinate has towards reform Jews – “The Reform undermine the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and only use halacha when it is convenient for them” as it is against “the true Jewish identity of the state”, says Chief Rabbi Yosef. Add that to the clash on conversion even in orthodox US communities like the recent controversy surrounding Haskel Lookstein and Ivanka Trump’s conversion and it is clear to see that this establishment causes quite a lot of tension between Israel and the Jewish diaspora.
The last and most recent battleground is Kashrut. With the rise of organizations offering alternative certificates, Israel’s supreme court was forced to step in and sided with the rabbinate on the use of the word “kasher” – it can now only be certified by a certified “mashgiah”. This battle, like all battles against the CRI, is still being waged.
While all of these fronts are give-and-take between religious people with a different view on Judaism, the Rabbinate’s relation to the very large secular and non-Jewish population of Israel is very cut and dry: They hate everyone who isn’t them. And that public retaliates – They want the rabbinate out of their marriage and out of their plate. Not only out of their life, but even out of their death as more opt to be buried in civil cemeteries. This situation could have been considered funny, if it wasn’t that exact public, who hates the Chief Rabbinate as much as the Chief Rabbinate hates them, were the people whose taxes funded this atrocious organization.
It’s time for a change. It’s time to replace the old guard with new blood. To replace the hegemony with heterogeneity, greed with kindness and exclusion to inclusion. Judaism can be a beautiful thing that has a special place in the life of the average Israeli, but sadly, it’s mediated and mitigated by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.