Reality Check: Some home truths

Does anyone seriously suggest that if we were to start all over again, we would create a chief rabbinate?

The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate (photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate
(photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
After Passover, we’re renovating the apartment.
We moved in over two decades ago, the kids have grown up and sort of moved out, and our needs and expectations are very different to what they were back in the 1990s. So the past few weeks have been spent throwing away the clutter that has accumulated over the years. Who knew we had a cupboard full of envelopes? And why? Which got me thinking: as Independence Day gets closer, surely this is the perfect time to start renovating, i.e. consigning to the junkyard of history, some of the institutions of the state that perhaps made sense 68 years ago, but today are far from fit for use.
So, in my newfound zeal for stripping away unnecessary items surrounding my life, here are three candidates for the rubbish tip from the national arena, whose disappearance either won’t be missed or whose more modern replacement will be far more suitable for 21st-century Israel.
First on the list is the chief rabbinate. Personally, I’d like to go further and remove all official status of religion in Israeli life, leaving matters of belief to people’s individual conscience. But just as my wife is unable to persuade me to throw away the hundreds of novels I bought back in the day, one has to accept that not all renovations can lead to a total change of the status quo.
But the chief rabbinate? Does anyone seriously suggest that if we were to start all over again, we would create a chief rabbi, in fact two (!), with all the unnecessary accouterments and hangers-on that accompany them? This British implant deserved to be thrown out the minute the Mandate ended.
All the office of the chief rabbi provides is a haven of jobs for the boys (not women of course) for whichever religious political party manages to get control of it.
We already have a Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is bad enough – why are we compounding the waste and corruption with a separate office of the chief rabbinate? Another holy cow on my altar, ready for dispatching, is universal IDF conscription. The very fact that we talk about “universal conscription” shows that we’re fooling ourselves because the reality is that large sectors of the Israeli population – haredim (ultra-Orthodox), Arabs and women who declare themselves to be religiously observant – are legally entitled to evade the draft. Which means it’s not universal.
So why not admit it and turn the IDF into a fully professional army, where those who serve do so because they choose to. One immediate benefit would be that the army would be free to choose exactly who it wants in its ranks and not have to accept soldiers who are really not suited to a military life.
WITH A professional army, paying professional wages, the army would also be more sensitive to the cost implication of each soldier, which would go a huge way to reducing the hidden unemployment stalking many bases. A quick walk around the Azrieli shopping mall near the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv drives home the point that a lot of conscripted soldiers have a lot of time on their hands.
By removing the draft, I don’t intend to downplay the IDF’s importance to Israeli life. In the neighborhood in which we live, we need a strong army, based on quality recruits. But in return for giving up three years of their lives and, in some cases, their lives themselves, these soldiers deserve to be properly compensated. Far from turning the IDF into an army of mercenaries, scrapping conscription would simply be a recognition that the current system unfairly discriminates between secular and haredi, Jewish and Arab, male and female youths.
And finally, we come to the national anthem. As President Reuven Rivlin himself has noted, it’s unreasonable to expect Israel’s Arab citizens to sing of their “‘Jewish spirit yearning deep in the heart.”
Rivlin suggests that 20 percent of the country’s citizens simply abstain from singing the national anthem, but this is the equivalent of applying a quick coat of paint instead of going ahead with a full renovation.
It doesn’t solve the basic problem that the country’s national anthem totally ignores the identity of a fifth of the population. If we are ever going to create a truly equal society here in Israel, “Hatikvah” has to go.
As in the case of our kitchen, if you want to create an improved sense of home, you have to rip out the old and replace with new, even if it is sometimes hard to do so.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.