In the Book of Maccabees, our primary historical source for the Festival of Hanukkah, we learn that Hanukkah commemorates not only the oil that miraculously lasted for eight days, but another eight-day festival, Sukkot, which could not be observed the year the Temple was defiled. While they are historically linked, however, Sukkot and Hanukkah emphasize opposite themes. On Sukkot, we are meant to bring the “outside in” by eating and sleeping in temporary, outdoor shelters. On Hanukkah, we are meant to bring the “inside out” by lighting menorahs or hanukkiyot on window sills for all to see.
Why is the message of Hanukkah one of bringing the inside out? What are we intended to project from our private, family lives into the public sphere on Hanukkah’s eight nights?
The defining feature of family life is trust. While the outside world is a place of anonymity and distrust, the home is where mutual acceptance and trust bind us to one another. When we light the Hanukkah candles, we symbolically bring familial trust into the wider Jewish world.
In recent months, the Israeli government has violated the trust of the Jewish public in countless ways. In matters of official Jewish status, marriage, conversion, and other central facets of Jewish life that for generations have been determined on the basis of trust, it has introduced widespread distrust. I find myself, an Orthodox rabbi, defending the value of trust—which is foundational within Judaism—again and again.
Last year, ITIM, the organization I founded, was approached by four families, three from the former Soviet Union and one from the US, that shared a single, heartbreaking story. Despite having made aliyah as Jews and having been married by the Israeli Rabbinate as Jews, each received a subpoena from an Israeli rabbinical court informing them that their official Jewish status was under investigation, and requiring them to appear at a trial. Such an act—unprecedented in Jewish history—demonstrates how suspicion has supplanted trust in Israel’s official rabbinical establishment.
The issue of the official Jewish status of Israelis is not the only area in which mistrust prevails. Israel’s Chief Rabbinate currently is challenging the authority of non-Israeli rabbis who vouch for the fact that their congregants are Jewish when they make aliyah or attempt to marry in Israel. Rather than embrace these rabbis as allies in the fight against assimilation and intermarriage, the Rabbinate has met them with skepticism and distrust.
Similarly, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has placed unnecessary obstacles in the way of restaurants seeking kosher certification. Implying that restaurant workers cannot be trusted, the Rabbinate has not only overreached in its enforcement of kosher laws, it has caused many establishments to abandon their pursuit of kosher certification altogether.
ITIM is tirelessly fighting these violations of the public trust. We brought the case of the Rabbinate’s retroactive invalidation of the four families’ Jewish status to Israel’s Supreme Court, where it is currently being heard. We exposed the Rabbinate’s “blacklist” of non-Israeli rabbis. And we are working closely with private organizations to bring back ne’emanut—trustworthiness—to kosher certification in Israel.
As we light the Hanukkah candles this year, may the light of trust we kindle with our families shine and spread throughout Israeli society and the Jewish world.