Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef goes to Kotel 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
God periodically shows us a sense of poetic justice and even a sense of
This week the world media celebrated the birth of a new heir to
the British royal house: an institution not built on talent, but rather on
bloodlines, and without any strategic power.
A few hours later, a few men
in black in Jerusalem turned the rabbinate of Israel into a royal hereditary
institution built not on talent but on bloodlines and without much spiritual
power. After William and Kate showed off their princely baby, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
crowned his son, and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau crowned his son.
It was a
happy day in London, but a sad one in Jerusalem.
The funny thing is that
both the British royal house and the Israeli rabbinate can have great symbolic
and even spiritual consequence if the “royal” or the “rabbi” sets a good
example, finds a certain grace, courage and even modesty that elevate them
beyond the trappings of office.
It is a lesson many Israeli rabbis –
particularly of the ultra-Orthodox persuasion – need to learn: too many of
Israel’s religious leaders have been building hatzerot – royal courts – around
themselves, and they have taken to passing on their power through
JUST LIKE vassals serving royal courts in the Middle Ages,
most of the Hassidic community live in poverty, making donations to their
religious leaders’ courts.
Many of the Hassidic rabbis have been doing
this for years, but it is really making a mockery of the job of rabbi – a post
that is mostly about being a teacher and spiritual guide. When our spiritual
guides guide themselves by love of money or love of power, then we lose heart
and lose faith.
Yonah Metzger, Israel’s current Ashkenazi chief rabbi, is
under house arrest in a huge corruption case, and the evidence appears quite
damning. Rabbi Metzger was put into office by a powerful voting bloc organized
by ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who wanted to take control
of the Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Elyashiv picked Metzger just like British
Mandatory authorities in Palestine picked Hajj Amin al-Husseini to be Grand
Mufti. Of the four candidates Husseini was the worst on his Islamic exams, but
he was politically powerful and expedient. The Mandate chose Husseini, and
Elyashiv chose Metzger. Power trumped spirit.
Many religions in many
lands have seen their men in cloth exposed in the most embarrassing ways. In the
ultra-Orthodox establishment of Israel, where nothing succeeds like success
or... maybe like succession.
Think of it: Rabbi Yosef and Rabbi Blau got
to do what Moses and Samuel did not succeed in doing – pass on the mantle of
spiritual leadership to their sons.
British royalty – and royalty in
general – get real power when they show a common touch and common sense, when
they reach out and lift up. They rise up in our eyes and become symbolically and
even strategically powerful not when they ensconce themselves in a luxurious
royal court but rather when they court virtue.
As a reporter I once saw
how Israel’s Sephardi-oriented Black Panther Party greeted Ashkenazi chief rabbi
Shlomo Goren when he visited them in their tent demonstrations.
Goren won their respect because he had been a tireless religious influence for
good. He was a rabbi who was also a paratrooper and a visitor of the sick, not a
minister who took money, lavish hotel rooms and first-class plane tickets to
perform weddings for Jews in Basel and London.
We need more rabbis like
Rabbi Goren. Yes, he was a showboat, but he also cared about God, not gold, and
people sensed that.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has built a huge power structure –
the Shas Party. It has an unparalleled record of political success and political
corruption in its short history.
Many of its top leaders went to jail:
Arye Deri, Yair Levi, Shlomo Ben-Izri.
We are supposed to imitate God and
the great messengers of God. But when the messengers fail, we should replace
them, even if they are black-robed rabbis selected by black-robed
Israel is dealing with monumental religious questions that
require a human and a humane face tied to God’s teachings. One is treating mass
immigration of people of partial Jewish heritage who want to become Jews in the
French statesman Georges Clemenceau once reportedly said,
“War is too important to be left for generals,” and perhaps it is time to
realize that “religion is too important to be left to rabbis and
After all, God said to Moses: “ve-atem tihyu li – mamlekhet
kohanim ve-goy kadosh – “And ye shall be a nation of priests and a holy people
(Exodus 19:6).The writer is the author of
Battle for Our Minds: Western
Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/ Simon and Schuster. He was
Strategic Affairs Adviser in the Ministry of Public Security, and will be a
visiting professor at University of California, Irvine.