Rabbi David Stav370.
(photo credit: Nachman Rosenberg)
The battle for leadership of the Chief Rabbinate has heated up recently. This is
the first time the race for chief rabbi has gotten so much media exposure. Why
should the secular public care about the chief rabbi? It’s interesting that
candidates for the position market themselves as pluralists – a which might be
an effective election tactic if it was the public who elected them, and not an
unelected body of 150 haredi and national-religious men.
Rabbi David Stav
markets himself as the secular public’s rabbi. He is an observant Jew from the
religious Zionism stream, but the fact that he is not haredi immediately
ingratiates him with the secular public. Rabbi David Lau also jumped on the
branding bandwagon and declares himself “everyone’s rabbi.” But will the outcome
of the election meaningfully change the Chief Rabbinate? Can either candidate
change the relationship of the secular public with the institution that controls
the most intimate aspects of our lives? Rabbi David Stav has pledged to reform
the Chief Rabbinate if elected. On June 4, Yediot Aharonot published Rabbi David
Rabbi Stav takes pride in his plan to turn the Chief into “a
nice and accessible institution.” On the surface, his reform plan appears to
tackle many spheres of deep concern to the secular public, including conversion,
marriage, divorce, ritual circumcision, kashrut licensing, and organ donation.
Yet examination of the Stav Plan reveals that the changes that Rabbi Stav seeks
to make only enforce minimal ethical or regulation standards.
proposed reform is requiring ritual circumcisers to be
Certifying men who perform surgical procedures on
eight-day-old infants is a necessary yet basic regulation that should have been
put in place decades ago, but is not meaningful reform.
Another of Stav’s
proposals is to prohibit kashrut licensors from taking salaries from the
establishments they supervise. This can be seen as official prohibition of one
form of systemic corruption that has plagued the kashrut licensing system for
decades. Prohibiting corruption is great, but is just the bare minimum needed in
a lawabiding state.
A third reform is encouraging sanctions against
The Chief Rabbinate should use sanctions to impel
husbands to grant a divorce, but will not change the obligatory system of Jewish
marriage in which a man can chain his wife to their marriage against her
I welcome these changes wholeheartedly.
Any positive change
in the Chief Rabbinate will be welcomed by the secular public. Like any
government institution, the Chief Rabbinate is obligated to enforce reasonable
standards of licensing, regulation and ethics for rabbis, kashrut supervisors,
circumcisers and other religious professionals.
But what is missing in
Stav’s reform is a fundamental change in the way the Chief Rabbinate treats the
Rabbi Stav defines his reform as “zero waiver of Jewish
law, total waiver on bureaucracy.” To me, this means that a Chief Rabbinate
headed by Rabbi Stav will concentrate its zeal on enforcing Jewish law with
renewed vigor, while relaxing some bureaucracy, yet “zero waiver on Jewish law”
unequivocally says there is no room for discussion about Jewish law that creates
real, tangible infringement of citizens’ rights, particularly
Thus, a woman refused a divorce cannot break free from the
shackles of marriage and rebuild her life. A husband can continue to claim that
his “rebellious wife” burns his food or fails to clean and should pay for his
loss of property in a divorce settlement. A Cohen will continue to yearn for his
divorced lover but be unable to marry her. A Jewish woman may love a man of a
different faith but cannot build a family with him in Israel. Same-sex couples
will continue to travel to foreign countries in order to marry.
born of sperm donations will hold taboo status and will have to undergo invasive
interrogations to marry, and other such oddities will infringe upon the rights
and freedoms of Israel’s citizens.
Rabbi Stav’s reform proposal is
throwing sand in the eyes of the secular public. Reforming the rabbinate will
not improve our situation.
We will continue to be prisoners of the Chief
Rabbinate on issues that should be our own private domain. An “accessible and
pleasant institution” does not impose laws and customs on the entire community.
True reform would enable all citizens of Israel to live their lives according to
their faith – even secular Jews. And secularism is a system of belief no less
profound than Judaism is.
How did the secular majority became a
persecuted minority controlled by the religious establishment? The author is the
founder and executive director of New Family Organization.