A few years ago, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, called a
surprise “emergency rally” at a wedding hall in Jerusalem. Hundreds of Shas MKs
and functionaries, high-ranking administrators of the Shas Ma’ayan Hachinuch
Hatorani school system, rabbis and rabbinic judges and representatives from the
news media received word that the rally was slated to take place within a few
hours. After hasty preparations, hundreds converged on the wedding hall, not far
from Yosef’s home in the Har Nof neighborhood. A packed crowd waited expectantly
as Yosef took the stage. No one knew the reason for the rally.
launched into a long speech of contrition about how he, as a preeminent
spiritual leader and interpreter of Jewish law, was to be held personally
responsible for every Jew in Israel who could have been brought closer to
Judaism but was not because of something that he said or did or did not say or
did not do. At one point, Yosef began to cry.
Unfortunately, none of that
self-critical introspection was apparent Tuesday at an emergency meeting called
by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar. Instead, the increasingly dominant haredi
wing of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel convened – not to think of innovative ways
to reach out to tens of thousands of Israelis who would like to learn more about
their Jewish tradition but never had the opportunity – but to gather together to
bash fellow Jews.
Amar referred to non-Orthodox Jews as “destroyers” of
“They fight against every holy thing,” declared Amar, “they are
trying to uproot Judaism... We must pray [against them] like in times of war
when bullets and missiles are being shot at us.”
Rehovot Rabbi Simcha
Hacohen Kook further disseminated baseless hatred, attacking not only the
non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, but also the modern-Orthodox Tzohar
What got Amar, Kook and the others all riled up? Last month,
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced – following a Supreme Court petition
filed back in 2005 by the Israeli Reform Movement’s legal arm – that the state
would recognize Reform and Masorti (Conservative) rabbis as “non-Orthodox
community rabbis” and would provide a small number of these rabbis with
state-funded salaries, just like their Orthodox counterparts.
rally was yet additional proof of what has become abundantly clear: The Chief
Rabbinate has become an institution that does more harm then good to the way
Judaism is perceived by the wider public.
Unlike Chabad and a few other
Orthodox organizations – not to mention Reform and Conservative streams – that
have set a goal to reach out to every single Jew regardless of his or her
beliefs and practices, the Chief Rabbinate, originally created to provide
religious services to all Israeli Jews, has become increasingly close-minded,
parochial and intolerant. Its rabbis seem more preoccupied – obsessed? – with
defending their monopoly over state funds for religious services from privately
funded organizations such as the Orthodox Tzohar rabbis and the Reform and
Masorti (Conservative) rabbis than doing their job.
solution is simple. The state must stop providing all those distracting state
What’s more, the present system suffers from all the built-in ills
that afflict many state-run endeavors: mindnumbing bureaucracy; advancement
based on seniority, not meritocracy; and a total lack of a service ethos. When
the services being provided are welfare payments, automobile licensing or
passport renewal, expectation levels are low and so is the potential for
disappointment. But when the state bureaucracy, with all its fundamental
disadvantages, starts meddling in the highly charged and emotional matters of
religion, a crisis of faith can result.
Instead, a type of “free market
Judaism” should be introduced. Vying religious organizations – Orthodox,
Conservative and Reform –should compete among each other on a level playing
field to provide the very best religious services. Citizens will have the
freedom to choose from among those services on the basis of
“Free market Judaism” would create the conditions – competition,
striving for excellence, relevance – for a more robust religious environment.
And it would reduce the chances of Yosef calling another emergency rally to
express public remorse for not doing enough to bring Jews closer to their roots.