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1369: Metzora 5th of Nissan 5771 09/04/2011

Symbols of a "Jewish Country"

Ninety years have passed since the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was established by our mentor Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, on the sixteenth of Adar I 5681 (1921). Aside from a gathering that I arranged in the Knesset to mark this event, it was not recognized in any official way. This embarrassing fact perhaps shows the insignificant status of the Chief Rabbinate and its poor public image.

The Chief Rabbinate is without a doubt one of the clear identifying symbols of the Jewish State in Israel. Just as the Knesset, the government, and the justice system are clear symbols of democracy in Israel, the same is true of the Chief Rabbinate, which has been established by law. This institution is the most meaningful symbol for fashioning the Jewish character of the state. No other country in the world has such a law or such an institution.

The conclusion of the above reasoning is that anybody who wants to maintain the status of Israel as a Jewish country must do everything possible to protect the status of the Chief Rabbinate, and he must struggle to maintain its way of operation within the national and governmental realms.

Responsibility for all of Yisrael

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is inherently different from any other rabbinical institution that the nation of Yisrael has had during the exile of the last two thousand years. In the exile, the responsibility of the rabbinical authorities was limited to the spiritual and halachic leadership for each separate community, and wherever Jews lived no institution existed with general responsibility in terms of a national and countrywide approach. The responsibility of the rabbis was thus limited to community affairs. In Israel, the Chief Rabbinate has been granted governmental and national responsibility for the character of the state as the land of the Jewish nation, and it is expected to provide solutions for all the problems with which a state must struggle.

Rav Kook, together with is colleague Rabbi Yaacov Meir, the first Sephardi Chief Rabbi, paved the way for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, but they were active in the era before the State of Israel was established. The trip to the Gallil that Rav Kook organized ("The Journey to the Towns") set the tone for the Heter Mechira during Shemitta year that allows Jewish agriculture to continue to exist in Eretz Yisrael, and it provided halachic support for the settlement enterprise in the land. This approach was typical of the founders of the Chief Rabbinate. The rabbis who followed them after Israel was established continued with the same approach. For example, they declared Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim as days of thanksgiving and called for the recitation of the Hallel, and they added the prayer for the State of Israel to the siddur.

The view of the significance of the state and a broad sense of national responsibility is the main justification for the existence of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. It is also the main guarantee that it will continue to exist in the future. If the Chief Rabbinate ignores this responsibility and does not respond to the challenges and the problems that face Israel today, it will become more and more an institution that seems irrelevant to the country. The result will be more and more people who ask if there is any justification for this institution to continue to exist.

The law in Israel gives the Chief Rabbinate exclusive authority in important issues, such as matters related to personal status. It is important that this level of authority should be matched by the feeling of responsibility of the institution of the Chief Rabbinate. It must operate not as an institution responsible only for a limited group within the country but rather as a government body. It must keep the national interests in mind, and not act as the representatives of a religious sector which supports a specific halachic viewpoint, one that does not recognize the State of Israel as a spiritual and halachic element. The status of the Chief Rabbinate as a spiritual and halachic authority cannot be based merely on secular law. It must be based on the ability of this institution to fulfill its governmental and national mission.

Is this the "Beginning of the Growth of our Redemption?"

There are those who claim that Rav Kook declared that the return to Zion and the yearning for a rejuvenation of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael is the "Beginning of the Growth of the Redemption." The Chief Rabbinate adopted this definition and incorporated it in the prayer for the State of Israel. This must be the foundation on which the Chief Rabbinate should base its approach about every national and governmental issue.

For the last few years, the Chief Rabbinate has been criticized by some elements within religious Zionism. This was based on the fact that the Rabbinate first ignored the concept of the beginning of the redemption and then even adopted an approach that denies this status. It sometimes appears that the Rabbinate acts out of fear of the Chareidi approach, which denies the concept of the beginning of the redemption, and it sometimes seems as if it is a rabbinical body belonging to a specific Jewish sector. Everybody who cherishes the Chief Rabbinate should pay attention to this criticism and should do all he can to return it to the original approach.

Only by faithfully following such an approach can we guarantee the future status of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

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