In a distressing development, representatives of the North American Jewish Federation system, the American Jewish Committee, and some Israel-based anti-Torah entities are collaborating in an effort to “dethrone” the longstanding and important institution of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
The idea is misguided and dangerous, and if its supporters are successful they will have created an irreparable divide within the heart of world Jewry, negatively impacting both Israel and the Jewish diaspora.
The effort is being spearheaded by the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Contemporary Jewish Life, which convened a meeting in January to discuss “working in partnership toward the ending of rabbinic monopoly,” according to the AJC’s Steve Bayme.
Joining with the AJC in the effort to undermine the Chief Rabbinate are institutions and organizations such as the Reform Hebrew Union College, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, the National Council of Jewish Women and the self-described open-Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.
A leading player in opposing the Chief Rabbinate is the UJA Federation of New York, which apparently has little or no regard for the hundreds of thousands of observant Jews in the metropolitan New York area whom it purports to serve and represent.
In Israel, heading the opposition to the Chief Rabbinate is the pluralism advocacy group Hiddush. Financial support for Hiddush comes from the New Israel Fund, known for its support of left-wing causes and groups.
Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told the Israeli daily Haaretz last month that the critical question is, “Is Israel the Jewish state for all the Jewish people?”
In the same Haaretz article, Susie Gellman, a former president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said that weakening the hold of the Chief Rabbinate on Israeli life is not an internal issue for Israel alone. Her husband, Michael Gelman, co-chair of the 2013 JFNA General Assembly elaborated: “Israel is the nation state for all Jews wherever they are found.”
“Israelis won’t be under the tyranny of the [Chief] Rabbinate,” he added.
The individuals who attended the aforementioned January meeting “all agreed that the goal was to dethrone the Chief Rabbinate, but the question was how to get there,” according to minutes of the meeting obtained by Haaretz.
Those leading the attack on the Chief Rabbinate are counting on the Torah community and its leadership to be too involved in partisan differences to respond with a strong and united voice to safeguard and protect the unity of the Jewish people.
If we remain silent in the face of this brazen attempt to undermine the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, any and all recognized standards with regard to personal status and religious identity will be hopelessly diluted, resulting in an unprecedented fracturing of Jewish unity.
We of the Rabbinical Alliance of America applaud Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, who when questioned about the AJC initiative stated unequivocally that “The RCA is very happy to be excluded from the initiative because we don’t agree with it. Jewish law has certain minimal standards in order to be married and somebody has to oversee that. An institution like the Chief Rabbinate’s office is probably good to do that.”
Rabbi Dratch also noted that “Many improvements can be made to the Chief Rabbinate to be more user-friendly in order to increase respect for religious practice. Our feeling is that it requires improvement of the Chief Rabbinate, but not an overhaul.”
We call upon the leaders of the Jewish Federation of North America and the American Jewish Committee, and all of Jewish leadership, to refocus their efforts and resources on Jewish education, observance of the Torah’s commandments, and solidifying the ties of the Jewish people with Israel by supporting the sacred foundations of our people based on Torah and tradition that are at the very core of our identity and peoplehood as Jews.
About the Author: Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht is a member of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and president of the Rabbinical Council of Connecticut.
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