On the Chief Rabbinate, the Kotel, the prophets and social justice

Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun talks to the ‘Post’ about Israel and its place in the world.

RABBI YOEL BIN-NUN, co-founder of the Har Etzion Yeshiva and of Gush Emunim: Allow non-Orthodox services in the upper Western Wall plaza. (photo credit: screenshot)
RABBI YOEL BIN-NUN, co-founder of the Har Etzion Yeshiva and of Gush Emunim: Allow non-Orthodox services in the upper Western Wall plaza.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun is one of the preeminent figures in the National-Religious community.
A paratrooper who helped liberate the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, the co-founder of the prestigious Har Etzion Yeshiva, a founding member of the Gush Emunim settlement enterprise, and an expert on Bible studies and Jewish thought.
Ahead of Rosh Hashana, the rabbi spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the challenges facing the Jewish state heading into the new year, including the need to address poverty in Israel, what he described as the collapsing Chief Rabbinate, and the bitter cultural and religious struggles the country has witnessed over the last year.
One of Bin-Nun’s greatest fears is over the state of the Chief Rabbinate, its current ideological course and in particular its approach to the issues of “chained” women and divorce recalcitrance.
“It’s totally clear that the Chief Rabbinate is in a place of being more haredi and less Zionist than it was in the days of Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Herzog, Rabbi Uziel and those after them. This is dangerous,” said Bin-Nun.
And he said that the greatest problem is in the ongoing failure to find a halachic solution to the problem of agunot, “chained” women who cannot obtain a divorce due to recalcitrance on the part of their husbands or other reasons.
If a solution is not found, “the whole system is likely to collapse,” the rabbi said, arguing that any monopolistic organization with such systemic failings in another field would simply have its monopoly removed.
He is however a proponent of preserving the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly of Jewish marriage and divorce, explaining that it was established to ensure that Jews would always be able to marry each other and not descend into separate groups with their own marriage records as happened in the days of the Second Temple.
Bin-Nun’s solution is what he calls “a bill of divorce at the last moment,” which is a conditional divorce signed before any problem has occurred which would become valid at the last moment before a potential aguna case arises.
In cases of recalcitrance, a divorce would come into effect when the couple no longer lives together, he said.
And in the realm of kashrut and conversion, Bin-Nun is similarly critical, noting that a process of de facto privatization of rabbinate services has begun because of its failings and inability to repair them.
“They [the Chief Rabbinate] need to understand that on the current path, the whole enterprise will crumble apart,” he said.
He does however have an alternative and somewhat surprising proposal, which would be to allow all non-Orthodox services to take place in the upper Western Wall plaza, behind the men’s and women’s prayer sections.
This area was never a synagogue or place of prayer, he noted, in reference to it having been the site of the residential Arab Mughrabi Quarter before 1967, and that therefore there would be no problem in allowing egalitarian prayer there.
“I was a soldier there, not in the name of the rabbinate but in the name of the IDF, in the name of the Jewish people,” said Bin-Nun in reference to his participation in the battle for Jerusalem and the Old City in the Six Day War.
“It was never a prayer site and therefore no one should interfere with what happens there, the Israeli government should decide that the rabbi of the Western Wall doesn’t manage that area or determine what happens there.”
But the biggest challenge facing the Jewish people in the State of Israel today are socioeconomic problems, insisted the rabbi.
“The Jewish state is about the Ingathering of the Exiles as well as its obligation to become an exemplary society,” said Bin-Nun.
“If we are not an exemplary society, then all the severe prophecies of the Bible will be reawakened, the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, of Amos and Hosea, this is what Ben-Gurion and his friends intended, an exemplary society in the spirit of the words of the prophets, this is the most difficult challenge.”
If the poor are neglected, if people cannot earn a dignified living and if the words of the prophets calling for justice and help for the weak are not heeded, then “we will be in danger and it will be no less than the security threat,” the rabbi explained.
“Internal division was always the chief enemy of the Jewish people, during the First and Second Temple periods, we are champions at internal division,” he said, explaining that having a society divided between rich and poor threatens the existence of the people “as a sovereign and independent nation.”
Bin-Nun nevertheless sees much to take heart from in the country, seeing the stability of the nation’s basic security and the Ingathering of the Exiles from around the world in the lifetime of the state as unparalleled achievements.
And he is optimistic for the future, particularly in Israel’s technological inventiveness and creativity and its ability to assist people beyond the borders of the Jewish state through those achievements.
“The Jewish people has given the world the Bible and slow drip irrigation,” he said, lauding other Israeli technological innovations.
“The entire world is beginning to see the Jewish people as a Light unto the Nations.
Today, in the merit of Israeli inventions which the entire world is beginning to look for, it’s beginning to become a real Light unto the Nations. This is our hope and our chance.