According to the State Servants’ Code of Regulations (“takanot shirut
ha’medina”), the chief rabbi of Israel – and any other rabbi, priest, sheikh or
religious judge that receives a salary from the state of Israel – is forbidden
to be involved in political activity.
Clause 42.322 states specifically
that during municipal elections “it is prohibited to participate in the public
meetings of political parties or political bodies or give speeches on any
subject, because the very appearance of the state employee on the stage of a
political party is liable to create the impression of political
On Friday, newly appointed Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef,
gave a speech during a political event for Shas in the predominantly haredi city
of Bnei Brak that marked the launching of the political party’s municipal
election campaign there, Israel Hayom reported Monday.
appearance at the event seems to constitute a violation of the above mentioned
penal code. It is also yet another example demonstrating the pressing need to
dissolve the Chief Rabbinate and to separate as much as possible religion from
The idea that the State of Israel has the power to restrict a
religious figure’s freedom of expression in political matters or any other
matter of conscience or opinion is repugnant.
Indeed, the founders of
modern democratic thought who called for the separation of church and state were
primarily concerned with protecting the freedom of conscience of the
At the same time, however, rabbis and other religious figures
– Jewish or not – should not receive a salary from the State of Israel and the
rabbinate should be dissolved.
Israel is, and should remain, a Jewish
state. But this goal is best accomplished through legislation such as the Law of
Return, laws governing Shabbat as a day of rest and Jewish holidays as national
holidays and laws ensuring that kosher food is served in the IDF and other state
However, Israel should avoid empowering religious
individuals or groups with clear political affiliations.
when these individuals or groups gain control over the Chief Rabbinate or the
Religious Services Ministry they inevitably exploit their position to further
the narrow interests of their constituents. In Yosef’s case it means taking
advantage of his new powers to further the interests of Shas, a party
established by his father.
Yosef will be tempted to exploit the Chief
Rabbinate’s monopoly over kosher food supervision to advance the Beit Yosef
kosher supervision apparatus run by the Yosef family. And since the Chief
Rabbinate has influence over the appointment of neighborhood and city rabbis and
the chairmen of religious councils, Yosef may work to appoint cronies close to
The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau will be under similar political
pressure to advance the interests of the Ashkenazi haredi establishment. And if
a religious Zionist candidate had been elected as chief rabbi, the narrow
interests of this specific group would have been advanced.
rabbis should use their positions to present a more accommodating, relevant and
meaningful form of Judaism to the greater Israeli populace. But Israeli society
is too diverse.
Unsurprisingly, few feel the Chief Rabbinate represents
them. Haredim have their own rabbis and spiritual leaders and do not rely on, or
even trust, the kosher supervision of the Chief Rabbinate. Secular Israelis are
increasingly turning to alternative expressions of Judaism, whether Orthodox
groups such as Tzohar rabbis, Chabad, Breslav; non-Orthodox movements; or
non-denominational movements such as Jewish renewal groups Nigun Halev, Beit
Tefila Yisraelit, or Beit Midrash Alma.
Also, there is an inherent
contradiction between the religious faith of men like Yosef and the upholding of
democratic principles that enable basic freedoms such as gender equality or the
fair treatment of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Meanwhile, forcing chief
rabbis to appoint women as heads of religious councils or to recognize
non-Orthodox streams of Judaism is an infringement of their religious
The freedom of expression of religious figures such as Yosef
should not be restricted by the state in the form of laws like clause 42.322 of
the State Servants’ Code of Regulations.
At the same time, the State of
Israel must protect its democratic character.
The best way to achieve
both these goals is by separating as much as possible the involvement of the
state in religion.
Dissolving the Chief Rabbinate is an important first