Ethical nation or political corruption

We must embrace the “same paths tread by our Patriarchs” who understood that the only way to create a shem, a name, in this world is by becoming an upstanding moral individual.

Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
My wife and I went out to eat at one of the many new local establishments springing up around our city; the atmosphere was pleasant, the food was tasty and kosher...or so we thought.
The following day I mentioned to a friend where we had eaten and I was shocked to hear from him that the rabbi of his synagogue (who also happens to work for the official rabbinate of the city) while delivering one of his sermons forbade his congregation from eating at this same restaurant because it did not have kosher certification from the local rabbinate and therefore it was not kosher.
Needless to say I was quite surprised, particularly because I had just eaten there the previous evening and not only had I seen a mashgiach, who is responsible for kashrut supervision, but also the kosher certification from what I knew to be a legitimate organization called Chug Hatam Sofer, which operates out of Bnei Brak.
I did not want to believe what I suspected; that the kashrut industry, as is the case with many religious institutions including many of the local rabbinates of various cities, is treated as and is no more then a lucrative business.
This same rabbi, who works for the local rabbinate, the governing body which makes much of its money on issuing kashrut certification, was not concerned with the standards of kashrut as he would have his congregation believe, but rather with the fact that the restaurant was paying its kashrut fees elsewhere, thereby preventing the rabbis from the local rabbinic council from cashing in on the same fees.
In an attempt to clarify the issue and avoid casting any unjust accusations, I called the rabbi and indeed he confirmed that the restaurant had not been kosher but that now everything had been sorted out as the eatery had acquired a proper kashrut certification from the local rabbinate.
When I mentioned to the rabbi that I was surprised by his original assertion considering that I had eaten there because there was kashrut certification from Chug Hatam Sofer, he explained that while he could not say that I had eaten non-kosher, ideally it would have been better to avoid eating there in the first place because they did not have proper kosher supervision, but now that they had purchased the local rabbinate certification, it was alright to eat there once again.
Confirming that which I suspected to be true, I lost my appetite.
Not only did this rabbi espouse inaccuracies to his congregation, but by declaring the restaurant non-kosher he caused an unwarranted financial loss to its proprietor.
Unfortunately this kind of behavior is exhibited by other rabbinic councils across the country as well, and it is precisely these deviant behaviors which mar the public perception of religiosity.
While one would expect religious leadership to maintain certain standards of moral conduct, it is important to realize that this lack of ethics is not limited to religious institutions; it festers within what are supposed to be the lofty halls of government institutions and national leadership.
How else does one explain the fact that Ehud Olmert, directly responsible for the disastrous results of the Second Lebanon War and indicted for tax evasion, fraud and breach of trust, could have the audacity to entertain running for prime minister? How do you make sense out of the fact that a convicted criminal such as Arye Deri, who was sentenced to three years in prison for taking bribes while serving as interior minister, can actually make a successful run to return to political life, even if it means establishing his own party?
Even more disturbing is that very little protest is heard from the populace regarding the political intentions and leadership aspirations of these buffoons. We, the nation of Israel, should be demanding that such deviant characters are not fit for public office and that rabbis who prostitute their principles should not maintain positions in the rabbinate.
Only a few short weeks ago, on the day after Yom Kippur, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stood in front of the United Nations and confidently declared: “In Israel, the past and the future find common ground. We protect the rights of all our citizens; all are equal before the law. Israel is also making the world a better place.
"Our scientists win Nobel prizes. We prevent hunger by irrigating arid lands in Africa and Asia. Israel’s exceptional creativity is matched by our people’s remarkable compassion.
"When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, in Haiti, Japan, India, Turkey, and Indonesia, Israeli doctors are among the first on the scene, performing life-saving surgeries... Every year thousands of Palestinian Arabs and Arabs from throughout the Middle East come to Israel to be treated in Israeli hospitals by Israeli doctors.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu proclaimed to the world that which apparently we need to remind ourselves of; the Jewish nation always has established and must continue to forge its imprint on society by being morally conscious and ethically sound. The moment these standards are compromised is the moment we are in danger of losing our identity.
During the next few weeks the Torah portions describe the lives and behaviors of our Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The commentaries explain that the reason we read about their character is for us to reflect upon what our proper modes of behavior and ethic should be.
Our Patriarchs all studied in the same “yeshiva,” or institution, and they were all taught by a man called “Shem,” which literally means “name.”
What exactly did they learn at this yeshiva considering that at the time there were no Talmud or biblical texts for them to study? The yeshiva of “Shem” focused on creating a value-based society of compassion and sensitivity premised upon ethical and moral conduct; precisely the subjects which receive the least amount of attention, if any, in our schools and yeshivas today.
Netanyahu began his speech at the UN with the following words: “In Israel we walk the same paths tread by our Patriarchs, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, but we blaze new trails in science, technology, medicine and agriculture.”
In truth these paths are one in the same; if we are to impact society then we need to create curricula for our schools, religious and non-religious alike, which will accentuate and nurture tolerance, patience, human decency and sensitivity to people and our environment alike.
We must embrace the “same paths tread by our Patriarchs” who understood that the only way to create a shem, a name, in this world is by becoming an upstanding moral individual. If we do not then I am afraid that our rabbis and their institutions may continue to espouse distorted principles and the political face of the nation will become criminal.
The writer teaches at Yeshiva Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a lecturer under the Harel Division for the IDF rabbinate, as well as for the Menachem Begin Heritage Center Israel Government Fellows. He is also an author and lecturer on Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education.