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1440: Ki-Tavo 21st of Elul 5772 08/09/2012

Three Obsolete Institutions

Our nation was blessed with three institutions when the State of Israel was founded in 1948. (This model reminds me of the Rambam, in Hilchot Melachim 1:1 – "Yisrael was required to observe three mitzvot when they entered the land.") Here are the modern institutions: The Jewish Agency (which was also the precursor of the Knesset), the Chief Rabbinate, and the Histadrut (association of Jewish workers in Eretz Yisrael). These were representative institutions of the Jewish people as it organized itself for national sovereign life in its own country. These three infrastructural organizations were necessary for the processes that took place before the state was established, and we leave it to the historians to establish their relative importance and elucidate their relative contributions to the budding state.

As the years passed, the initial form of these institutions has become obsolete, and they can no longer continue to exist solely on the basis of nostalgia and past accomplishments. Two of these institutions have already changed completely. They have taken on new forms, and they are striving to make their way along newer and more modern pathways. The third institution, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, has maintained its previous and nostalgic form, maintaining a false hope that it will be able to "renew its days as in the ancient past" (see Eicha 5:21).

There is simply no possibility for the Chief Rabbinate to return to its former glory. It no longer serves as a symbol of the nation which dwells in Zion. And most important: The element of authority of the Chief Rabbinate has dissipated long ago. First class halachic experts and also rabbis and yeshiva heads who wield their authority over their respective communities do not serve in the Chief Rabbinate – both because of a conflict with their value system and even more so because of the way the rabbis are chosen by a blend of political interests. No "Torah giant" will ever choose to be a candidate for the Rabbinate under the existing conditions. In addition, the fact that the age of Chief Rabbis is limited to seventy years leaves those who have real authority out of possible range. Therefore, the Chief Rabbinate today has no "divisions" or even "battalions" which follow its directives. Its authority suffered greatest after the Rabbinate was taken over by the Chareidim and the Shas Party, whose "Great men of Torah" sit in offices elsewhere. The Chief Rabbis themselves and most of the rabbis elected to the council are publicly subservient to external authority. Even if this reflects a worthy trait of humility, it definitely does not lead to a voice of authority.

In view of this objective situation, there are those who feel that "the only hope for the Chief Rabbinate is to destroy it completely." Others, and I am included in this group, think that the framework of the organization, its challenges, and its methods of operation should be dramatically revamped and refreshed. This would be similar to what happened to its "sister" organizations, the Jewish Agency and the Histadrut, which forged for themselves new channels of activity and new horizons. How can this be accomplished?

Active Involvement

My readers may well be familiar with the fact that for the Torah portion of Yitro 5758 (1998) I wrote an article calling for a transformation of the Chief Rabbinate, making it more "relevant" by changing its emphasis from halachic authority – which it no longer has – to greater involvement in the Jewish life in Israel, in the character of the country, and in its Jewish identity. I updated my approach on Tazriya 5763 (2003), when the current Chief Rabbis and Rabbinical Council were elected, giving my article the title, "Privatization of the Chief Rabbinate." And now I raise the subject for the third time, in reaction to the fact that the Tzohar rabbis have brought it once again to the forefront by publishing an eighteen-point program "to strengthen the Chief Rabbinate and its connection to the general public." In the press the timing of this announcement was described as the "opening shot" before the elections of new Chief Rabbis and a new council of the rabbinate, about half a year from now.

I am in complete agreement with the vision and the challenges outlined in this plan, which are relevant to the general lifestyle – such subjects as kashrut supervision, the rabbinical courts, conversion and authenticating Jewish identity, weddings and family purity, burial and mourning, research on the interface between halacha and a living Torah, teaching of Torah to all those who want to learn, and more. In all of these subjects, the emphasis is on satisfying the needs of everybody within the people of Yisrael, "following the path of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook," as the Tzohar rabbis declared, and not just providing religious services to those who have a specific interest.

With the Help of External Institutions

The truth is that there is absolutely no way that this program can be put into effect within the legal framework that exists today. Most of the items in the plan are not under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate but rather are under control of local religious councils, municipal authorities, the Ministries of Justice (the rabbinical courts), Education and Culture (Torah study and halachic research), and even Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Science, and Tourism (holy sites). And let us not forget the Supreme Court, which controls everything, making its weight felt with respect to everything that is related to value systems and to Judaism.

In spite of the above considerations, I am convinced that this program should be promoted by means of a revolutionary effort to populate the rabbinate (both the Chief Rabbis and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate) with prominent figures from religious Zionism. And then some of the members of the Council should be assigned specific tasks within the realms of Jewish identity and religious services. Such activity would of necessity depend on the help of external organizations which exist today in almost every area and not on formal institutions. This will be the "New Rabbinate in Israel." I am well aware that this organization will not have any formal authority in spheres of activity which belong by law to the local religious councils, to the rabbinical courts, and to various government ministries, and it is hard to believe that the law will be modified. On the other hand, if the Chief Rabbinate is involved and shows concern about all walks of life, it will be a productive factor and guide all the other bodies in the ways to act in order to combine Judaism, society, and the state.

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