It was inevitable. Once they came after Reform, Conservative and other progressive Jews, it was only a matter of time until the Chief Rabbinate turned on other Orthodox Jews.
In October, the Chief Rabbinate informed Rabbi Avi Weiss that his letters regarding Jewishness and personal status would no longer be accepted. Rabbi Weiss then published a blog calling for the end of the Chief Rabbinate. This week the office of the Chief Rabbinate issued its reasons for the decision, the first time such reasons have ever been published.
Rabbi Avi Weiss’s commitment to Halachah, combined with his clear-eyed understanding of the world in which we live today and the need to prepare contemporary Orthodox rabbis for this reality, make him one of the great Jewish leaders of our time. (The same can be said for his successor, Rabbi Asher Lopatin.)
In publishing its reason – that Rabbi Weiss shows insufficient commitment to Jewish Law – the Chief Rabbinate presents a pre-text, not text. Yet again they have:
1. Proven that the Chief Rabbinate is interested in protecting its own status, power and privilege, far more than it is interested bringing people into Jewish life.
2. Perpetrated a fundamental abuse of human rights in Israel where, because of the Chief Rabbinate, Jews are denied their right of free expression and their right to live Jewishly.
3. Affirmed through their actions that the Chief Rabbinate disenfranchises the vast majority of the Jewish people and its rabbis.
The Chief Rabbinate’s unilateral and unchecked control over Jewish life in the State of Israel, with its cascading impact on Diaspora Jewry, needs to end.
While I continue to feel badly for Rabbi Weiss, I also need to say, “welcome to our world.”
For generations, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has discriminated against Reform, Conservative and other progressive Jews and their rabbis. It is important to note, we are the largest contingent of Jews throughout the world. The Chief Rabbinate tries to delegitimize our status as rabbis, and to deny Judaism to the Jews we lead to Jewish life through marriage, conversion and B’nai Mitzvah. The Chief Rabbinate seeks over and over to maintain its power and control over financial resources in Israel.
Issue by issue, we need to wrest control away from those who declare themselves to be Chief of Jewish life and to narrow their influence to being Chief of A Small Circle of Orthodox life. We need to expand the rights of all Jews to marry, convert, pray at the Western Wall and share in the State’s financial support of religious life.
Rabbi Weiss said it perfectly: “The time has come… to pronounce in clear terms that the Chief Rabbinate will no longer have a monopoly on the religious dictates of the State… As the motto goes, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Rabbi Steven Fox is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinic leadership organization of Reform Judaism with 2000 rabbis leading 1.5 million Jews in synagogues, organizations, military and other community settings.