I have a dear friend from my law-practice days who, for the last 20 years, has flown into California every year to spend a weekend with me and my wife.
Peter, a Presbyterian elder, and I are very close, so we discuss – but never argue about – issues that divide us. When I’ve asked him about Presbyterian Church resolutions against Israel, Peter has explained that these resolutions don’t reflect the views of average American Presbyterians. Rather, unrepresentative activist insiders leverage their positions to issue Mideast policy statements while the rank-and-file laity basically does not care enough to fight them.
The Presbyterian experience Peter describes is hardly unusual. For example, State Bar associations often take policy positions with hardly any input from their members, who pay their annual dues only because they can’t practice law otherwise. The same is true of teacher unions or labor unions. The bosses make the political decisions while the rank and file keep their mouths shut, caring more about their job than ideological purity.
For more than a decade, I have been a member of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). For six of those years, I have sat on the RCA’s Executive Committee. I have been active on several significant RCA committees and chaired one.
Like a great many of my colleagues, I joined the RCA initially because I was forced to; many synagogues have by-laws that require their rav to be an RCA member. Why? Because laymen often can’t determine whether an applicant for a rabbinical post is qualified or committed to normative Orthodoxy. If he belongs to the RCA, though, they figure he must be fine.
Aside from job opportunities, RCA membership comes with other benefits: a tax-advantaged pension, fellowship and shared learning with colleagues, and access to a cemetery section in Israel. I’m glad I joined the RCA. I got the rabbinic job I applied for, I have a pension, I have purchased two cemetery plots, and I enjoy the most wonderful circle of colleagues.
There’s only one thing: the RCA’s public policy statements. The RCA claims to speak for hundreds of my colleagues and friends but sometimes makes statements that are repugnant to our beliefs. In the past, RCA permitted its membership to propose and vote on public policy statements.
The ones that passed truly reflected the voice of RCA members. The best example is the RCA’s public statement against women serving as clergy. That historic statement emerged – not from RCA leadership – but from the membership and helped give direction even to the Orthodox Union, which now has fewer congregations with female rabbis on staff than it did before. (Unlike the OU, Agudath Israel and Young Israel absolutely bar female clergy, with no exceptions.)
The RCA, however, no longer operates as it once did. For the past several years, it has not invited policy statement proposals from within its membership. Instead, a small internal committee craft and issue policy statements with no transparency.
Last year, the RCA joined extreme radical left-wing groups like T’ruah, Bend the Arc, J Street, American Jewish World Service, and a plethora of Reform and other non-Orthodox “social action” groups to attack the Trump administration’s handling of illegal aliens at the southern border.
And last week, RCA’s internal committee attacked “racist rhetoric in the highest levels of government” – an obvious attack on President Trump. What prompted this attack? Criticism by the president of four radical Democrats, including the Jew haters Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.
Israel is currently subject to an incessant torrent of criticism from members of the Democrat Party, with Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar the main mouthpieces. Whether it is Tlaib speaking of the Holocaust’s “calming” effect and questioning American-Jewish loyalties or Omar accusing Israel of “hypnotizing” the world and Jews buying support for Israel with “Benjamins,” these two have galvanized a previously suppressed Jew-hatred on the Left.
At the same time, we have never had a more pro-Israel president in the White House. President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved America’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, withdrew America from the hateful UN Human Rights Council, exited the disastrous Iran Deal, cut off American funding from UNRWA, and even closed down the Washington offices of the PLO.
But the members of RCA’s internal committee care more about appeasing the predominant left media than they are with expressing long-overdue gratitude to a friend in the White House. On at least three occasions now, they have issued pious statements criticizing the president, never once seeking their membership’s approval – because they are terrified they won’t get it.
The RCA is not the only organization to act in this fashion, but a Torah organization should not fear the voice of its rabbis.