Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), together with Rabbis David Stav and Shlomo Riskin, launched the Knesset People, Religion and State caucus on Wednesday, and as expected, issued stinging criticism of the Chief Rabbinate while calling for the “internal privatization” of religious services in the state.
The previous, 19th, Knesset witnessed several fierce struggles by liberally inclined MKs and their rabbinical supporters to reform the provision of religious services, especially in the conversion system, most of which were not successful.
The new caucus is designed to keep such issues in the public eye, despite the conservative inclinations of coalition parties United Torah Judaism, Shas and Bayit Yehudi, in order to create a groundswell of public demand for reforms to the conversion system, kashrut supervision, marriage and other aspects of religious life.
“The time has come to restore control over religious services to the public,” declared Lavie at the beginning of the session.
“More and more people, including religious people, are choosing to get married outside of the rabbinate, not to convert with the rabbinate, and not to use the other services provided by the rabbinate,” she said.
“The rabbinate is losing its relevance because of its extremist behavior, because it is distancing itself from its national task. Instead of thinking about the whole of the Jewish people it is thinking about special groups,” said Lavie.
Stav, the head of the Tzohar rabbinical organization and a former candidate for chief rabbi, decried what he described as the rabbinate’s monopoly over religious services, saying that such monopolies are destructive.
“There is a need for privatization within the rabbinical system, but not a privatization that breaks apart the system,” the rabbi asserted as a solution.
He noted the Tzohar-backed law abolishing marriage registration districts passed in 2013 as an example of such internal privatization, although that law has been stymied by the Chief Rabbinate. He said similar reforms could be applied to the realm of kashrut, rabbinical courts and burial, to create more competition among the different religious services institutions and their local branches, so as to improve them.
Stav, however, ruled out conceding the Orthodox monopoly over religious services in Israel, as is demanded by the Reform and Conservative movements, saying there would be “zero flexibility in the world of Jewish law, 100 percent flexibility in the bureaucracy.”
Riskin, a strong advocate of the conversion reform approved by the last coalition but overturned by the current government, said the Chief Rabbinate had arrogated to itself more power than it ever had before, and that its dominance over debate and the interpretation of Jewish law – even within Orthodoxy – is detrimental to Judaism in the public realm.
“The State of Israel needs to say that the chief rabbi isn’t a pope,” said Riskin. “This is not the way of Jewish law, and it’s endangering the whole of the Jewish people.”
MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), who heads the caucus along with Lavie but was unable to attend due to personal reasons, said the Jewish character of the state is a critical component of its survival, and that it is therefore essential for the public to be drawn toward religious life by improving religious services – a move the new caucus would promote.