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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Chief Rabbis’

Chief Rabbis & Politics

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I have never been a fan of chief rabbis. Anyone appointed by committees, politicians, or bureaucrats is suspect in my eyes. Perhaps my antipathy is rooted in the days when both Napoleon and the czar appointed state chief rabbis whom they approved of because they were likely to support their agendas. I can say with confidence that, in general, the greatest rabbis, whether intellectually or spiritually, have never been interested in public appointments.

I don’t mean to say that all chief rabbis have been duds. Israel’s Chief Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook, Isaac Herzog, and Uziel were great men by any criteria. Chief Rabbi Goren was a dynamic overachiever and a fearless innovator. Some, like Ovadiah Yosef, have been great scholars but poor spokesmen. But there have been too many others who were undiplomatic, corrupt, or ineffective. The reason can simply be put down to politics. When appointments are made by groups of political appointees (or self-appointed grandees) they invariably make the wrong decisions. Neither is public acclaim a reliable test of the best person for the job. Those who seek or need public recognition are rarely willing or able to take the tough and controversial stands that are the mark of genuine leadership.

Israel recently appointed two chief rabbis, both the sons of previous chief rabbis. I do not know either of them. But remarks I have seen attributed to them leave me deeply depressed that they will reflect a xenophobic, narrow perspective and shrink from trying to humanize the rabbinate. The political maneuvering, the arm twisting, the deals behind closed doors all point to a corrupt system. And once gain the innovative, the exciting have lost out. If a good man ever emerges it is despite the system not because of it. Nepotism is a poor way of producing great leaders. Yet throughout Jewish religious institutions nepotism is the norm rather than the exception. Yeshivot nowadays are often big family businesses (as indeed are most Chasidic dynasties).

Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi and the other Sefardi. This in itself is evidence of how flawed the system is, that in a small religion such as ours religious leadership cannot work together. In addition, in Israel, there is a huge disconnect between the religious leadership and the common person, between the state rabbinate and the Charedi world, which has its own authorities. Indeed the Charedi world always rubbished and abused the state rabbinate until, in the desperate search for jobs for the boys and power, it began to infiltrate and then take much of it over. Once again it has ensured that its candidates have got the jobs.

One of the first words in Ivrit I learnt was “protektsia” (yes, I know it comes from Russian). “Vitamin P” meant you could not get anywhere in Israeli life, from top to bottom, religious or secular, without knowing someone or having someone pull strings in your behalf. So it was and so it largely remains. When this disease infects religion, it loses its moral authority.

But surely, you will say, Judaism requires one to respect one’s religious leaders. In theory this is so. The Torah commands respect for princes and scholars. Our liturgy is full of references to their importance. But there are two very distinct types of leadership in our tradition. The prophet and the judge emerged through merit. That’s probably why there were women judges and prophets. Rabbis as a rule were the result of meritocracy (the rabbinic dynasties that began with Hillel wanted to have their cake and eat it). On the other hand, the priesthood and the monarchy were both hereditary, and both failed. Most of the Jewish kings were idolatrous, evil men, and most priests showed more interest in money and power than Divine service.

Moshe typified the meritocracy. This was why he always defended himself by referring to his spotless record. It is true we say that in each generation we must accept the leader, Jephtah in his generation as the equivalent of Samuel in his. But I believe that has another meaning, of the need to accept the best we can get.

“Pray for the welfare of the ruling powers because otherwise humans would swallow each other up,” says the Mishna. That very Hobbesian idea underpins our modern secular states. But as Locke argued, if the king failed to do his job, you could and should get rid of him. This is why we pray for the State wherever we live, even as we may try our best to vote out whoever the current prime minister is. We in the West have recently experienced the irrational hysteria over a royal baby. I have no interest in ordinary people being elevated to positions of power or even symbolic authority simply on the basis of birth. There are enough inequalities in life of rank and wealth. I like the fact that we can vote people out of office as much as in. If I choose to respect someone, it is on the basis of the respect he or she earns, not the position they have been given. The diploma should be greater than the diaper.

I look forward to Elijah’s arrival. I hope he will not try to reinstate the monarchy. But I am pretty sure he will not insist on two kings, one Ashkenazi and the other Sefardi.

One of the reasons for so much disillusion with religion is precisely this disconnect between how its leaders too often behave and speak and their own purported religious values. The more we see how susceptible religious leadership is to money, power, and fame, the less good the religion they represent looks. I don’t care too much what politicians like Spitzer or Weiner get up to, and if people want to vote for them that’s their problem. But when religious leadership behaves like political leadership, something is very wrong.

Bill Advances to Guarantee Women on Panel to Nominate Rabbis

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The Cabinet Ministerial Committee Sunday approved advancing a bill that would guarantee that at least two women be named to the committee that nominates Israel’s rabbinic judges and the two chief rabbis.

In effect, there would be three women for the time being because Justice Minister Tzipi Livni automatically is on the committee.

The bill, sponsored by Jewish Home Knesset Member Shuli Moalem and Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie also would add a woman as an addition member to the 10-member committee.

“This is another step towards restoring Judaism to Israelis,” commented MK Lavie.

Women are not allowed to serve as rabbinic judges on a “Beth Din” but previously have been among those nominating the rabbis.

However, in the past several years, no women have served on the committee.

“We will bring appointments of rabbis who are more moderate,” said MK Lavie, adding that she wants rabbis who will listen to different views.

“In the past few years, almost all of the rabbinic judges have had the same hardline views, are unusually strict and reflect the lack of representation of Israeli society,” she added.

MK Moalem noted that approximately 50 percent of the issues in rabbinic courts involve women, and that rabbinic judges need to be more responsive.

Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day Starts Sunday Night

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, will be observed this year starting Sunday evening, April 7, the 27th of Nissan, and going through Monday night.

Israel’s day of commemoration for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and for Jewish resistance, was signed into law by then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.

Many Jews commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, but some prefer to remember and mourn the victims of the Holocaust on the 9th of Av and the 10th of Tevet, the two days dedicated to mourning our many national catastrophes by the sages.

In Israel, Yom HaShoah will open at sundown in a state ceremony held at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square, in Jerusalem. During the ceremony the national flag will be lowered to half mast, the president and the prime minister will speak, the Chief Rabbis will recite prayers, and Holocaust survivors will light six torches.

At 10 AM Monday, two-minute sirens will sound throughout Israel, and people will stand at attention. Ceremonies commemorating the Holocaust will be held at schools, military bases and other community centers.

All places of public entertainment will be closed by law. Israeli radio television will air only Holocaust documentaries and Holocaust-related talk shows, the cable comedy channel will be off, and all flags on public buildings will be flown at half mast.

Thousands of Israeli high-school students, as well as thousands of Jews and non-Jews from around the world, will participate in a memorial service in Auschwitz, in what has become known as “The March of the Living.” The event is organized in the hope of making the Holocaust experience “real” for young Jews born decades after the war.

Jews in the Diaspora will observe this day in their synagogue and community centers. Many Yom HaShoah programs will feature talks by a Holocaust survivors, recitation of psalms, poems and personal accounts, and viewing of Holocaust-related movies. Many Jewish day schools will hold Holocaust-related programs.

Obama Goofs Up on Hand-Over-Heart During Anthems

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

President Barack Obama began chatting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as the Israeli Army band played The Star Spangled Banner at the welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport Wednesday before remembering to put his hand over his heart.

Netanyahu also turned to Obama with a few words beforehand, and it appeared that the two leaders would be gabbing with each other instead of standing quietly during the American National Anthem.

After Obama solemnly put his hand over his heart, he kept in there during the beginning of HaTikvah, a remarkable honor to a foreign country. However, after a few seconds, he remembered to remove his hand and stand at attention.

Afterwards, he shook hands with dozens of well-wishers, most of whom he probably does not even know, but his outgoing personality seemed to make everyone feel he was receiving a personal response.

The two chief Rabbis of Israel, Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, also welcomed President Obama.

President Shimon Peres told Obama, “Welcome home.”

Rage over Chief Rabbis’ Prohibition of Entrance to Temple Mount

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Both Israel’s Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger recently signed releases prohibiting entrance to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The rabbis state that “it is our sacred duty to note that Jewish law completely prohibits climbing up to the Temple Mount, and that this prohibition is simple and clear, and the ban has been issued by all the great sages of Israel.”

The release declares emphatically that all current attempts by individuals and groups to enter the mountain top, which today is occupied by two Muslim mosques, is “absolutely prohibited.”

The Chief Rabbis explained that the prohibition is largely due to the fact that a Jew may not enter the Temple Mount area while he or she carry the impurity of a dead person, for which we do not have a remedy in our day.

But Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, Dean of the Hesder Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah, told the Jewish Press that he thinks the Chief Rabbis’ prohibition is the result of sheer fear, “which brought about an incorrect and disproportionate reaction.”

Rabbi Sherlo said the Chief Rabbis had been informed that a large group of religious Jews were planning to climb up to Temple Mount this coming Purim, and they were concerned about safety issues.

“They were looking to solve one problem, but created a much bigger one instead,” he said.

The announcement by the Chief Rabbis was endorsed by Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron,  Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, and the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch.

Rabbi Yehuda Glick, Chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, attacked the religious ruling, saying in response that “it seems that the rabbis made those remarks in the spirit of Purim.”

According to Rabbi Glick, “God commands us to be seen by God, in the Place that He would choose, three times a year – how can the rabbis forbid it?” He added that the Talmud, Maimonides, and late poskim “permit and command to enter the Temple Mount in holiness and purity.”

Rabbi Glick told the Jewish Press he thought the Chief Rabbis’ ruling “is reminiscent of, if not worse than the rabbis who instructed Jews before the Holocaust not to immigrate to Israel.”

Rabbi Yaakov Medan, Dean of Hesder Yeshiva Har Etzion, told the Jewish Press that he was not certain “on which Jewish law the honorable Chief Rabbis based their prohibition.” He suggested that “there are areas on the Temple Mount where, following proper and detailed preparations, including dipping in a kosher mikvah, there is no prohibition on going there.”

Rabbi Medan cautioned that “if this is a new decree against entering the Temple Mount—lest Jews access the area without proper preparations, we must weigh the benefit of such a decree against the cost, which is a declaration that we are abandoning our rights to the Temple Mount and quiet quiescence to the entire area some day being turned into a Mosque, God forbid.”

Rabbi Chaim Richman, Director of the International Department of the Temple Institute, issued an official response to the Chief Rabbis’ statement:

“The recent proclamation of the Chief Rabbinate prohibiting Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount implies that ascent to the Mount is indeed forbidden by Torah law. However, this statement is inaccurate and misleading. According to the sources of halacha [Jewish law], the place of the Holy of Holies and sanctified courtyards are well known and documented, and with proper study and proper preparations (such as immersion in a mikveh [ritual bath] and the donning of non-leather shoes) one can visit this holy site without trespassing on the sacred areas.”

“Throughout the ages many prominent halachic authorities personally ascended to the Temple Mount, including the celebrated Rambam (Maimonides). Today, many prominent, respected Torah scholars, including yeshiva heads, visit the Temple Mount on a monthly basis together with hundreds of students. To minimize or denigrate these scholars and to imply that they are acting outside of Torah law is misleading, damaging and wrong.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/rage-over-chief-rabbis-prohibition-of-entrance-to-temple-mount/2012/03/07/

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