Where do they go from here?

Analysis: Moderate Jewish streams eye gaps that remain between Chief Rabbinate and non-Orthodox Israelis.

secular/religious Jew 370 (photo credit: Photo: Marc Israel Sellem, graphic: Mali Mizrahi)
secular/religious Jew 370
(photo credit: Photo: Marc Israel Sellem, graphic: Mali Mizrahi)
Now that the dust has settled in the contentious battle for chief rabbi, members of more moderate streams of Judaism are starting to weigh in on how the election of two haredi figures will impact the already tenuous relationship between the rabbinate and the growing secular and non- Orthodox Israeli public.
On Wednesday night, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef emerged victorious over national-religious candidates Rabbi David Stav and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, respectively.
Asked what the rabbinate can do to bridge the gap between the two divergent populations, activist and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev of religious pluralism NGO Hiddush was quick to respond.
“Short of going out of existence, there’s nothing [the rabbinate] can do,” he lamented.
According to Regev, the inability to compromise on pivotal hot button issues such as haredi enlistment in the IDF is one critical reason the Chief Rabbinate will continue to be out of touch with the majority of Jews.
Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Landes, director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, offered a more optimistic viewpoint.
Despite supporting Stav in his bid for chief rabbi, Landes lavished praise on the winning candidates and acknowledged that Yosef is a “master of Halacha.” He said that Lau inherited the charisma of his father, former chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Meir Lau.
However, Landes cautioned that the positive attributes they bring to the table may not be sufficient to address the ever-growing rift.
“All this might not be enough right now,” he said.
“We have a situation of great alienation. Not only in the [secular] population; a big chasm has happened in the mamlachti dati [national-religious] population. People from different directions, ‘good’ families have begun to give up on the rabbinate,” Landes warned.
One way to salvage the relationship, according to Landes, is for the organization to reach out and appoint women to both “significant and symbolic positions.”
Alan Abbey, director of Media and Internet Services at the Hartman Institute, agreed with Landes.
“What this may very well do is further corrode public support for the rabbinical establishment and system, because neither of these rabbis reflect a broad consensus of religion in the country,” he said.
Abbey suggested that the rabbinate must be willing to accept more “pluralistic approaches to Judaism,” but is skeptical that it will be willing to do so.
“The political establishment could work to encourage that and move toward it, but the chances of that, especially with the two people elected, are slim to none,” Abbey commented.
It certainly doesn’t help, he said, that the legitimacy of the organization is tainted by political power play and nepotism.
“The insiders prevailed. This was a very public campaign, but the voting was akin to voting for cardinals in the Vatican,” he said regarding the 147 religious and political officials who voted.
While Landes conceded that Shas played a big part in the victories, he disagreed that the legacy factor tarnishes the legitimacy of the rabbinate.
“Sometimes you actually get people who are good at what they do,” Landes said.
Of Yosef, son of former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Landes said, “Yosef has a notion of responsibility which his father always had and he’s not as politically driven as his father.”
Of course, while the forecast may be grim, only time will tell if these newly minted chief rabbis will listen to the will of the people or if they will continue to be beholden to the traditions of the past.