Just a thought: Clean up the rabbinate

It is my hope and prayer that the election this summer of new chief rabbis will be used as a opportunity to clean house.

July 4, 2013 14:36
4 minute read.
Wedding 521

Wedding 521. (photo credit: JPOST.COM STAFF)

The disturbing allegations against Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger have brought the rabbinate in Israel to a new low.

The rabbinate, an institution one would hope would serve as a bridge between Judaism and the state, has been one of the chief culprits in distancing Jews from their heritage and their God in heaven.It used to be that Cyprus was the destination last resort for couples seeking to be married because one of them was not Jewish. Now, even fully kosher Jews are opting to be married abroad to escape the draconian scrutiny of the rabbis here in Israel. It is for this very reason that organizations such as Tzohar have found much success in the Israeli public for doing what the rabbinate has failed to do; namely create a welcoming environment for Jews to celebrate life-cycle events.

Actually, the real problem is that there is no civil marriage in Israel. All Jews are forced to get married through the rabbinate, no matter how they feel about their Jewishness or belief in God. Why does the rabbinate fail to understand that by forcing secular couples to be married by the rabbinate, they are increasing mamzerim in Israel?

Halacha defines a mamzer as the product of specific illicit sexual unions. (A child born out of wedlock is not a mamzer.) When a couple gets married according to Jewish law, if the woman were to sleep with another man, this would be considered adultery, and a child conceived by such a union would carry the unfortunate stigma of being a mamzer, unable to marry a kosher Jew.

What is happening is the following situation: A secular couple is forced to marry according to Halacha. They have little sensitivity to Halacha or to its minutiae. If the marriage does not work out, these couples, during their period of separation, date other people and perhaps sleep with them. This would not be considered to be “cheating” by either one of them, as this was during a period of official separation.

Nevertheless, until a get, or bill of divorce, is issued, Halacha sees this couple as fully married, and the woman as guilty of adultery. If she were to get pregnant during this period, the baby would be a mamzer.

A religious couple having marital difficulties would hopefully be sensitive to this fact, and would not sleep with other people. But religious people are already committed to the halachic system. Why are we forcing people who do not commit to such a system to endanger themselves like this? Let me be clear here. The secular couple does not think they are doing anything wrong. And I would dare say that morally, they are correct. They were not cheating.

No one is hiding anything. Everything is out in the open. But halacha has its own rules, and Halacha sees this as a most serious sin. Why not let this couple be married through a civil service, and if the marriage should end, according to most rabbis it would not necessitate a get.

Another issue is conversion. The stories I hear, coming from potential converts, are infuriating. Young people, usually in the army, are seeking to convert to Judaism out of a deep love for God and the Jewish people. They have already committed themselves to Jewish destiny and fate by joining the IDF. They spend years studying for conversion but are being turned away, or are turning themselves away from conversion for not fitting into a haredi interpretation of Jewish law or practice.

The rabbinate expects potential converts to be more pious than 99 percent of world Jewry. There are women who scrupulously keep the mitzvot and who are denied conversion for merely wearing pants (which is not a violation of Jewish law); meanwhile the chief rabbi himself is facing charges of bribery.

I have gotten to know some of these women and it is our loss that we turned them away. We will yet pay for these mistakes as those denied conversion integrate themselves into Israeli life.

Yet another issue is kashrut supervision. Proprietors of kosher restaurants are complaining of stringencies upon stringencies being heaped upon them by supervisors that barely supervise. Recently, a movement has even started of kosher restaurants that are voluntarily giving up their kashrut certificates while remaining kosher, to escape the rabbinate’s clutches. Why has the rabbinate fostered such a situation? Instead of bringing honor to God and Judaism, the rabbinate brings disgrace and frustration to the public it is supposed to serve.

It is my hope and prayer that the election this summer of new chief rabbis will be used as a opportunity to clean house.

The writer is a doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and currently teaches in many post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot.

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