web analytics
January 28, 2015 / 8 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post


Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Facing Heated Calls For Change On Several Fronts

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger (right)

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger (right)

WASHINGTON – The latest battle over religious pluralism in Israel has unleashed a new barrage of criticism and calls for reform aimed at the Orthodox-controlled Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

Unlike major flare-ups in past decades, however, this time it’s not just the Reform and Conservative movements leading the charge – mainstream, consensus-oriented Jewish groups with no denominational affiliations are speaking out, too.

One flashpoint has been the fallout from the Israeli attorney general’s decision to approve government funding for Reform and Conservative religious leaders as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities” – albeit through the Ministry of Culture and Sports rather than the Orthodox-controlled Religious Services Ministry, which funds Orthodox rabbis.

That announcement drew a caustic response from Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who in a June 27 meeting urged more than 100 fellow Orthodox rabbis – including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger – to pray “in order to stop the destroyers and saboteurs of Judaism [because] they are trying to uproot the foundation of Judaism.”

“There is a natural backlash on the part of American Jews and American Jewish leaders when the Chief Rabbinate issues such statements,” said Steven Bayme, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations. “As we enter the 21st century, the [Chief Rabbinate] needs to be reevaluted in terms of democratic norms and modern Israel’s relationship to world Jewry.”

In response to Rabbi Amar’s remarks, about 50 Reform and Conservative rabbis protested outside of the Chief Rabbinate’s building in Jerusalem. Two Conservative rabbis filed a police complaint accusing Amar of incitement – a particularly serious claim in Israel ever since the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which has leaders from across the religious spectrum, but which in recent years has become more vocal on behalf of Israel’s non-Orthodox Jews, was quick to respond.

“It is a fundamental Jewish virtue to ‘love your fellow as yourself.’ We condemn comments that disparage fellow Jews and, in particular, well-established branches of Judaism that represent 80 percent of North American Jewry,” Jerry Silverman, the president and CEO of JFNA, said in a statement. “Statements such as those made by Rabbi Amar only serve to alienate our fellow Jews from our religion, our people and the Jewish state.”

Shortly after that controversy, the board of governors of the AJC – another nonsectarian Jewish organization with no formal ties to either the Reform or Conservative movements – went even further in criticizing the Chief Rabbinate and calling for major changes to the institution.

“In the 21st century, a coercive Chief Rabbinate has become, at best, an anachronism, and at worst a force dividing the Jewish people,” the AJC’s leaders declared in a resolution.

The Chief Rabbinate’s actions “threaten to divide the Jewish people and risk an anti-religious backlash against Judaism itself within the Jewish state,” they wrote. The AJC urged Israel’s government “to undertake promptly all needed actions” to end the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over issues of personal status.

The latest wave of criticism comes amid a backdrop of religion-related controversies – tensions between Modern Orthodox rabbis and haredi Orthodox rabbis over conversions; the push for civil marriage in Israel; and the struggle over whether haredi men should serve in the military or continue to be exempt to study in yeshivas.

“Like any human institution, the Chief Rabbinate could use improvement,” said Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive director emeritus of the Orthodox Union.

“What those improvements would be though requires a lot of thought and a lot of study, and from the OU’s perspective in no way could the Orthodox nature and the halachic nature of the Chief Rabbinate be compromised.”

Rabbi Weinreb stressed that OU congregations and rabbis adhere to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s decisions. He added that the process of electing chief rabbis could be refined so that it is “less political.”

The call for radical reform of the Chief Rabbinate was greeted warmly by Reform and Conservative groups.

“It’s a powerful letter from the dead center of the American Jewish establishment weighing in on what the Israeli government and the Israeli public still thinks is a fringe issue,” Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said of the AJC’s position. “It’s a welcome voice in that debate.”

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, director of Israel policy and advocacy for the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said that American Jews of various stripes believe that the time for major change has arrived.

“There’s a sense [that] it’s time for the [Chief Rabbinate] to enter the 21st century, if not the 20th,” Weinblatt said.

Focus on the topic is building, according to Martin Raffel, senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. However, he said that his umbrella group, which includes representatives of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist groups, will not be taking a public position on the matter.

“There clearly is great interest in the Jewish community regarding matters of religion and state in Israel,” Raffel said. “The JCPA considers the impact of Israeli policies and actions in this arena on Israel-world Jewish relations, and routinely shares assessments with government officials and others. But as an umbrella body – for the sake of ‘shalom bayit’ [Hebrew for ‘peace in the home’] – long ago we decided not to take positions with respect to specific legislative matters” in Israel regarding religious pluralism.

Likewise, the AJC usually stays out of internal Israeli affairs, but not when they “directly affect the position of American Jewry, the American Jewish-Israeli relationship and the Jewish people,” Bayme said.

About a year ago, he said, AJC leaders started deliberating on their statement in response to Knesset member David Rotem’s unsuccessful effort to pass a bill cementing Orthodox control of the Chief Rabbinate. But religious pluralism is not the only reason for such actions, Bayme added.

“We’re trying to signal to Israeli society that the U.S.-Israel relationship, which we pride ourselves on, rests on democratic norms,” Bayme said. “Those norms and a coercive monopoly [by the Chief Rabbinate] don’t easily exist.”

The AJC, he said, is not calling for the dismantling of the Chief Rabbinate but for its radical transformation. One model suggested by the organization is England’s Archbishop of Canterbury, who heads the 80-million member Anglican Church. The archbishop is chosen by the prime minister on behalf of the monarchy and has a largely ceremonial and ritualistic role with no political power.

But, Bayme cautioned, that is only one idea.

(JTA)

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Facing Heated Calls For Change On Several Fronts”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
parent org's website homepage of new political campaign office in Israel.
Look Who is Behind the New US Democratic-Style Campaign in Israel
Latest News Stories
parent org's website homepage of new political campaign office in Israel.

There’s a new grassroots, door-to-door knocking, community organizing style campaign effort that just landed in Israel. It’s focused on hoping for change and changing for hope and taking-the-street-to-the-street style shake it up electioneering. Flying in to run the show is none other than Jeremy Bird. The same Bird who was the deputy national campaign director […]

The IAF reportedly hit a Syrian military target in Damascus around midnight.

1:05 AM Syrian Media reports sites Israeli forces targeted belonged to Assad regime forces, including “Brigade 90.” Multiple sites targeted, including base near Khan Arnabah, and west Damascus. 12:54 AM No rockets were found on the Golan. It is believed that the rocket siren went off on the Golan in response to the IAF attack […]

Israel Police deployed inside arrival hall of Ben Gurion International Airport. (archive)

PM Netanyahu says it “could be the right thing to do,” to appoint a female chief of police in Israel. Maybe “it’s time.”

israel polls

Eli Yishai’s Yachad passing the electoral threshold is enough to change the game back.

Two hostages, one each from Japan and Jordan, may die in the next 24 hours, ISIS warns.

The united Arab list is enough to shift the balance of power.

It was supposed to be the “historic snowstorm of the past half-century.” But in NYC it just didn’t happen that way.

UPDATE: No press conference was held, but the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, sent out a message on social media that “no decision” has yet been “made by Army leadership with respect to Sgt. Bergdahl’s case. The process will be respected.” In other words, they have not yet released their conclusion for public consumption. […]

The former editor-in-chief of Haaretz passed away at age 67 in Jerusalem.

The two rockets fired from Syria that exploded in Israel’s Golan Heights at 1 PM today signifies a new peak in tensions being felt in Israel’s northern borders.

BBC: “Our one big question this morning: Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest?”

Visitors are invited to return to Mount Hermon Ski Resort after a double rocket attack sent officials to evacuate hundreds of people earlier in the day.

As usual, there is a big gap between what Arab countries promise and what they deliver.

An IDF soldier at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem. Tuesday, January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On January 27, 1945 the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Soviet forces.

The “Ugly Israeli” has taken its form in six idiot thugs who beat a Druze student, who served in the IDF, because he was speaking Arabic. A Jerusalem court was told the gang of Jews attacked the music student at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. The victim, identified as Tommy Hasson, served in the […]

President Obama is sending Jack Lew, the first Orthodox Jewish Treasury Secretary to the commemoration. Secretary Lew will be leading a delegation of State Department officials and Auschwitz survivors.

More Articles from Neil Rubin
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger (right)

WASHINGTON – The latest battle over religious pluralism in Israel has unleashed a new barrage of criticism and calls for reform aimed at the Orthodox-controlled Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/israel/religious-secular-in-israel-israel/israels-chief-rabbinate-facing-heated-calls-for-change-on-several-fronts/2012/07/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: