Now that the Knesset election is behind us, we face a different type of election: one that will affect the nature of the State of Israel, no less – and some say even more – than the general election: choosing Israel’s next chief rabbi.
Israel’s Zionist character has been challenged over the past few years by two communities.
The first is the anti-Zionist Left, whose aim is to change Israel into a state for all its citizens and to negate its Jewish character.
The second is the extremist anti-Zionist haredi community, which views the Zionist enterprise as sinful, and is not willing to recognize the idea that the People of Israel have sovereignty over the Land of Israel.
The implications of this are broad: The haredi community refuses to see that we have a shared responsibility for the existence of the Zionist enterprise. It is also opposed to sharing the burden of responsibility to protect the state through army and national service, and is averse to having its members be appointed ministers in the Knesset (because a minister is responsible for the nation as a collective, and for this reason, for example, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the health minister and Ya’acov Litzman is the deputy health minister but is in charge).
In recent years, a situation has developed where as a result of crooked politics and intrigues of various kinds, haredi rabbis have taken over the Chief Rabbinate. The rabbinate of the State of Israel is the one that provides kosher certification, is in charge of conversions, marriage, divorce, cemeteries, etc. The behavior of the rabbinate has been arrogant and aggressive.
Led by the Diaspora haredi community, the rabbinate has become a hateful body. And the Israeli public is simply sick of it. It is tired of its predatory nature, the underhanded deals, the exclusion of women, and its ignoring of the needs of the Israeli Jewish community.
We’ve reached the point where no one is engaged in a dialogue with the rabbinate.
Secular Israelis are sick of it, the national-religious community just ignores the haredi rabbis that control the Chief Rabbinate, and the haredi community does not eat foods deemed kosher by its own certification (preferring to eat foods that are Badatz, or super kosher).
The combination of the haredi arrogance and aggression in the rabbinate together with their contempt for the state is a disaster. It is first and foremost harming Judaism as a faith, and could produce the final blow to the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
The dream of someone who would prefer there to be a complete disconnect between the State of Israel and its Jewish character is that the haredi community continue to control the Chief Rabbinate, so that it can continue to be sickened by and hate the Judaism espoused by the public.
But the secular community is also to blame, since it has adopted the misconception that the Chief Rabbinate is only important for the religious community. But that’s just it – it isn’t! Secular Jews need to take an interest in the rabbinate, even if they don’t keep kosher, because it affects the lives of each and every one of us, and since it has the power to determine public policy in our Jewish state.
The only way to save the Chief Rabbinate, and to have a real and positive effect on the Jewish character of the state, and to tear down the walls of alienation that separate the State of Israel and the religious establishment, is by appointing a chief rabbi who is Zionist. And not just sort of Zionist or leaning toward it. We need a rabbi who served in the army. A rabbi who considers the State of Israel his state. A rabbi who does not dress like a haredi, and doesn’t think like a haredi. A rabbi who knows how to connect with the entire community. A rabbi who is learned in the laws of Torah, but that believes that derech eretz (respecting one another) is more important than Torah.
If you think having a sane person serve as the chief rabbi seems like a far-fetched idea, you are wrong. A few years ago a group of rabbis formed an organization call Tzohar. If you’ve ever met a nice rabbi, he’s probably from Tzohar. These rabbis are in favor of science, culture and art, service in the IDF, as well as equality for women.
These rabbis want to promote all the good and beautiful things in the heritage of Israel, and know how to give meaning to Jewish identity in the modern world. Tzohar is a group of rabbis who are fighting for social justice, welcome converts, and truly want to bring Jewish souls closer. The chairman of this organization is Rabbi David Stav. And we need to make sure that he becomes the next chief rabbi of Israel.
The writer is founder and chairman of Im Tirtzu.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.