Chief Rabbinate for whom?

We must continue to work to restore Rav Kook’s universalist vision and path. Judaism – and all Jews – deserve no less.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Over the course of the past month, I have been forced to fight a personal and professional battle for my tenure as chief rabbi of Efrat.
This period has been one of the most tension-filled periods of my life.
But at the same time, it triggered a veritable avalanche of articles, letters, and phone calls that were overwhelming in their good wishes, and for which I am profoundly grateful. This outpouring of support came first and foremost from my own congregants here in Israel, but was soon amplified by similar words of encouragement from all over the globe, including from many of my fellow rabbis and educators.
I was perhaps most invigorated by the public support offered by people who did not concur with every one of my halachic positions or ideological perspectives.
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For they understood that this battle was not about me, personally, but rather about the importance of having an inclusive rabbinate that is strengthened – not weakened – by diverse halachic voices.
In my 51 years in the rabbinate – 19 years in Manhattan and 31 years in Efrat – I have always viewed my calling, my shlichut, as a medium to bring as many Jews as possible, no matter how distant or alienated they may be from Jewish observance, into the embracing warmth of a Halacha based on concern for every Jew and every human being.
A Halacha that loves the stranger and seeks to bring him in rather than to shut him out; a Halacha that breaks down walls rather than constructing them; a Halacha of compassion, that solves problems rather than complicating them. And I learned from my revered teacher, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, that this is not only possible, but critical to achieve within the broad spectrum of halachic pluralism, the greatest model for which is the Talmud itself.
As my tenure has now been secured by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate for an additional five-year term, my personal struggle has been resolved. However, the fundamental issue still remains: What is the function of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel? Is its major job to serve as a gatekeeper for the purity of a homogeneous Orthodox Judaism? Or rather, can we imagine a rabbinate that reaches out, welcomes, and inspires all Jews to explore and embrace their heritage? Is it not the rabbinate’s historical mission to utilize the full and rich range of Halacha in order to formalize the Jewish status of thousands of families from the former Soviet Union, to answer the cry of the aguna and, in general, to make Judaism an accessible source of meaning and pride for everyone? The rabbinate’s very founder, our revered former chief rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook wrote, “It is important for the Chief Rabbinate to rise above all factional groups and parties … They must attempt to influence everyone and to maintain firmly the unity of the entire nation...not to give the public sphere any reason to think that the rabbinate is only part of one grouping or the inheritance of any particular party...”
We must continue to work to restore Rav Kook’s universalist vision and path. Judaism – and all Jews – deserve no less.
The writer is chief rabbi of Efrat and chancellor and rosh yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone.