In a democracy, citizens are supposed to organize to pressure government, and through the application of said pressure, secure (if needed) funds and advance a political, social and/or educational agenda that benefits the citizenry. Aren’t they? Or was I sick on the day we had democracy class at school?
So why do folks on this end of the Israel-Diaspora chasm geshry when Israel’s (Ultra)-Orthodox citizens use their influence within the political system to exert power? Or maybe Liberal Jews just have a thing about how black-and-white outfits make the haredim look too much like penguins? (And especially in the heat … eeewwww.)
I can already anticipate the reverberations from this piece in HaAretz (surpisingly roaming free outside the paywall) about a letter sent by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (a state official, as the Rabbanut is part of the government infrastructure) to hundreds of Orthodox rabbis in Israel. Rabbi Amar wants his fellow Orthodox rabbis to resist the Bibihead’s
caving in to diaspora pressure plan to recognize and fund Reform and Conservative rabbis in towns around the country. Rabbi Amar’s objection are on religious grounds:
We hereby express our sorrow and terrible pain over Heaven’s defiled honor and over the trampling of the Torah, and the hand given to the uprooters and destroyers of Judaism who have already wrought horrible destruction upon the People of Israel in the Diaspora by causing terrible assimilation and the uprooting of all of the Torah’s precepts.
The sounds of hand-wringing and keening do not come across well in the prose.
However, if you strip away the sin’at hinam and ignorance, what you really have here is the leader of a sector of Israeli society who, after years of hard work and political machinations, faces the possibility that his state-sanctioned monopoly might be taken from him. Other rabbis might be shnorring our funds! How can our yeshivot and schools and day care programs cover their costs if they have to share? (Yes, money for yeshivot, etc. comes from another line item in the budget, but how the flow of cash is diverted from the pipeline matters little when the pipeline is open and flowing freely…)
Wouldn’t you marshal the troops if a similar thing happened to your social group? What if your government considered ending your corn subsidy, Mr. Farmer or tax-deductible mortgage payments, Ms. Homeowner or social security or medicare programs, Mr. and Mrs. Alte Cocker? So let us not rush to condemn the haredim for fighting for what they perceive is theirs… Let us instead engage them on the legislative and electoral field and let us carry the day. But, of course, we cannot fully engage them because we do not live and vote in Israel … so why are we in golus geshrying at all? Unless Liberal Jews move en masse to Israel or the Israeli electorate stops fracturing along ideological/sectorial lines (say, vis-a-vis the Palestinians), the haredim will continue to exercise disproportionate influence in the political sphere. Sigh.
Though the Bibihead did not have to make this concession, many in the Liberal Jewish community heralded the decision to include Reform and Conversative rabbis as taking a stand on behalf of Jewish pluralism. My initial reaction to this news was less than enthusiastic.
The Rabbanut (in all of its various manifestations across Israel) has proven to be, besides xenophobic, homophobic and misogynistic, a graft-riddled trough of mess. Inviting Reform and Conservative rabbis to fress at this feed box will only implicate them in this institution’s absolute corruption. What the Israeli government needs to do is dismantle the Rabbanut altogether. Israel’s Jews (and by extension, the world’s Jews) do not need a Sephardic and/or Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi (or a Lord Rabbi in Britain). We also do not need nor should we tolerate a small sector of Israeli and Jewish society using this institution to dictate to everyone else what Judaism is and who is a Jew. Individuals and minorities should definitely advocate on their own behalf (see above), but they should not be allowed to bludgeon the majority with their mishegass.
So perhaps Rabbi Amar’s letter might be a good thing after all… in mustering his forces to democratically oppose the proposal of a democratically elected government, he might catalyze the opposition (= the majority of Jewish Israelis and world Jewry) to stand up and say (and, even better, vote for parties that advance the idea that): “Enough with this narishkeit! Get rid of the Rabbanut!”