Salvaging the Chief Rabbinate

Minor halakhic differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim don't justify separate posts.

April 4, 2006 20:19
3 minute read.
Salvaging the Chief Rabbinate

metzger 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])


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Prima facie, it may be argued that Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger is getting a raw deal from Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz when the latter requires he resign over multiple allegations against him, none of which, however, was sufficiently conclusive to produce an indictment that would hold up in court. After all, no one should be penalized without having his day in court. In Metzger's case, not only has he not been convicted, no charges have even been pressed against him. The reverse consideration, though, is whether we should countenance a chief rabbi - not a political player but a moral guide, and as such required to be a veritable paragon of virtue - who clings to his office at a time when the country's most senior law official has branded him dishonest and unfit for his post. Civil servants can be disqualified for less. In holding on, he risks bringing discredit to the already weakened Chief Rabbinate, still recovering from the scandal affecting the family of the other, Sephardi, chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar. This isn't a personal squabble, although individual fortunes and honor are certainly involved. But Metzger could salvage at least part of his personal prestige right away by telling the public that he is willing to rise above his own interests for the greater good of the rabbinate, and step down to avoid subjecting it to any more of the battering it has sustained of late. Metzger would be well advised to heed the attorney-general's recommendation to resign rather than await the administrative procedures that Mazuz indicated he might demand to oust him, and meanwhile vow to pursue his quest for vindication outside public office. This could be perceived as gallant, and certainly need not be interpreted as an admission of guilt. Metzger is hobbled and damaged. He may well have been so from the outset of his career as chief rabbi. Even during the rabbinate's electoral process three years ago, his candidacy drew an inordinate amount of opposition, and not only from critics concerned by his inexperience. All this preceded the current hullabaloo about freebee hotel stays and the like. Metzger was also seen as having been fielded by Shas and Degel Hatorah to spite the national-religious movement, whose creation the Chief Rabbinate is. Controversial from the day he entered office, Metzger never managed to win broad respect or shirk the insinuations that dogged him all along. It's disconcerting that the rabbinate has fallen on such hard times. During Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau's decade as Ashkenazi chief rabbi, he proved himself wise, folksy and approachable. Lau was a man for all people, regardless of their extraction and degree of devoutness. Such personalities may be rare. Nevertheless, when one door closes, another opens. Some good may after all arise from the rabbinate's current distress. Assuming that Metzger will do the right thing, and better sooner than later, perhaps no new Ashkenazi chief rabbi should be chosen to replace him. Amar could complete his term, but as Israel's single chief rabbi. Thereafter we could elect only one chief rabbi, regardless of his liturgical tradition. The relatively minor halakhic differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim have never justified separate chief rabbinical posts. Extraneous considerations likely contributed to the creation of twin positions in the first place. If so, and even if some would claim they were warranted in the days of mass aliya, they have no such value today, when the division of the office is actually anachronistic. Rates of marriage between Ashkenazim and Sephardim are so great that young Israelis have family ties in various communities, merging the traditions quite harmoniously. If in the state's salad days there was fear of discrimination, this too should now be laid aside. The once Ashkenazi establishment Labor Party fielded a Moroccan-born leader in last week's elections, and fared just fine. The president, defense minister and several former IDF chiefs of General Staff all hail from Sephardi families. It's high time the rabbinate caught up with reality rather than remain one of the last bastions of a schism which has healed considerably. Metzger unfortunate departure offers the perfect opportunity.

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