Gary Rosenblatt’s column last week focused on the disturbing effort by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to monopolize and centralize its power, and the passive response of its partner in North America, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), with more than 1,000 member Orthodox rabbis (“Time To Stand Up To The Chief Rabbis,” Jan. 10).
The RCA has yet to speak out publicly on behalf of members in good standing who have been, in effect, disqualified by the Chief Rabbinate for no known cause. The Chief Rabbinate acknowledged that it has no formal procedure for checking the credentials of its diaspora colleagues so it relies on the advice of a few trusted colleagues here. Yet the RCA has not protested this amateur and ethically offensive “system” or stood up for its fellow members, presumably for fear of offending the chief rabbis and losing whatever remaining clout the organization has in their eyes. Ironically, the RCA is virtually the only religious body that still cares, given the Chief Rabbinate’s downward spiral toward irrelevance, driven by its narrow, fundamentalist impulses.
While Rosenblatt set his sights on this friction within the Orthodox community, between rabbinic partners in Israel and North America, it should be noted and emphasized that rabbis outside of the Orthodox community — indeed the majority of rabbis in North America — have known what it is like to be marginalized, ignored by the Chief Rabbinate, and worse, for far too long. Throughout the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist communities, on reading that Rabbi Avi Weiss, a leader of the Modern Orthodox community for decades, was deemed unworthy to attest to the Jewishness of a congregant, the reaction surely was “welcome to the club, Rabbi Weiss.”
That’s how Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, senior rabbi of the (Reform) Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, put it this week (see Letters to the Editor). Similarly, Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, president of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly, pointed out that “the chief rabbis are treating Orthodox rabbis the way they have been treating non-Orthodox rabbis for ever and ever,” with a lack of respect and an air of illegitimacy.
There is a lesson here for American rabbis who have been long and sometimes bitterly divided by denominations. Even when they can’t agree on the nature of halacha and its process, they can join in protesting the arrogance and intolerance of a Chief Rabbinate that does harm to all of them, and their constituencies, and deserves to be scrutinized, chastised and revised. How sad that a body created to preserve and expand Jewish tradition has had the opposite effect on Jews in Israel and throughout the diaspora.