How did the secular majority became a persecuted minority?

A woman refused a divorce cannot break free from the shackles of marriage and rebuild her life.

Rabbi David Stav370 (photo credit: Nachman Rosenberg)
Rabbi David Stav370
(photo credit: Nachman Rosenberg)
The battle for leadership of the Chief Rabbinate has heated up recently. This is the first time the race for chief rabbi has gotten so much media exposure. Why should the secular public care about the chief rabbi? It’s interesting that candidates for the position market themselves as pluralists – a which might be an effective election tactic if it was the public who elected them, and not an unelected body of 150 haredi and national-religious men.
Rabbi David Stav markets himself as the secular public’s rabbi. He is an observant Jew from the religious Zionism stream, but the fact that he is not haredi immediately ingratiates him with the secular public. Rabbi David Lau also jumped on the branding bandwagon and declares himself “everyone’s rabbi.” But will the outcome of the election meaningfully change the Chief Rabbinate? Can either candidate change the relationship of the secular public with the institution that controls the most intimate aspects of our lives? Rabbi David Stav has pledged to reform the Chief Rabbinate if elected. On June 4, Yediot Aharonot published Rabbi David Stav’s plan.
Rabbi Stav takes pride in his plan to turn the Chief into “a nice and accessible institution.” On the surface, his reform plan appears to tackle many spheres of deep concern to the secular public, including conversion, marriage, divorce, ritual circumcision, kashrut licensing, and organ donation. Yet examination of the Stav Plan reveals that the changes that Rabbi Stav seeks to make only enforce minimal ethical or regulation standards.
One proposed reform is requiring ritual circumcisers to be certified.
Certifying men who perform surgical procedures on eight-day-old infants is a necessary yet basic regulation that should have been put in place decades ago, but is not meaningful reform.
Another of Stav’s proposals is to prohibit kashrut licensors from taking salaries from the establishments they supervise. This can be seen as official prohibition of one form of systemic corruption that has plagued the kashrut licensing system for decades. Prohibiting corruption is great, but is just the bare minimum needed in a lawabiding state.
A third reform is encouraging sanctions against recalcitrant husbands.
The Chief Rabbinate should use sanctions to impel husbands to grant a divorce, but will not change the obligatory system of Jewish marriage in which a man can chain his wife to their marriage against her will.
I welcome these changes wholeheartedly.
Any positive change in the Chief Rabbinate will be welcomed by the secular public. Like any government institution, the Chief Rabbinate is obligated to enforce reasonable standards of licensing, regulation and ethics for rabbis, kashrut supervisors, circumcisers and other religious professionals.
But what is missing in Stav’s reform is a fundamental change in the way the Chief Rabbinate treats the secular public.
Rabbi Stav defines his reform as “zero waiver of Jewish law, total waiver on bureaucracy.” To me, this means that a Chief Rabbinate headed by Rabbi Stav will concentrate its zeal on enforcing Jewish law with renewed vigor, while relaxing some bureaucracy, yet “zero waiver on Jewish law” unequivocally says there is no room for discussion about Jewish law that creates real, tangible infringement of citizens’ rights, particularly women’s.
Thus, a woman refused a divorce cannot break free from the shackles of marriage and rebuild her life. A husband can continue to claim that his “rebellious wife” burns his food or fails to clean and should pay for his loss of property in a divorce settlement. A Cohen will continue to yearn for his divorced lover but be unable to marry her. A Jewish woman may love a man of a different faith but cannot build a family with him in Israel. Same-sex couples will continue to travel to foreign countries in order to marry.
Children born of sperm donations will hold taboo status and will have to undergo invasive interrogations to marry, and other such oddities will infringe upon the rights and freedoms of Israel’s citizens.
Rabbi Stav’s reform proposal is throwing sand in the eyes of the secular public. Reforming the rabbinate will not improve our situation.
We will continue to be prisoners of the Chief Rabbinate on issues that should be our own private domain. An “accessible and pleasant institution” does not impose laws and customs on the entire community. True reform would enable all citizens of Israel to live their lives according to their faith – even secular Jews. And secularism is a system of belief no less profound than Judaism is.
How did the secular majority became a persecuted minority controlled by the religious establishment?
The author is the founder and executive director of New Family Organization.