Today’s Haaretz features an op-ed suggesting that the time has come to shut down Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. The article, written by Yithak Laor is filled with misconceptions about the workings of Jewish jurisprudence e.g. that rabbis don’t feel obliged to rabbis greater than themselves (we do, sometimes to living rabbinic teachers, sometimes to ancient masters and often to both) and even about basics of Jewish history e.g. that the army was not a religious institution (it certainly was in biblical times). That having been said, it is spot on about the damage wrote by state-sponsored religion.

Most importantly though is where Mr. Laor lays the blame for the sorry state of affairs which is the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. As in any democracy, look to the majority, which in Israel is composed of non-Orthodox Jews who continue to support, with their own hard-earned tax dollars, the Orthodox monopoly of the Rabbinate.
While I loathe some of the behavior of Israel’s religious establishment, and cannot think of any time when state-sponsored religious establishments, especially monopolies, have been in the long-term interests of a democratic state, I have no real anger at the monopolists – they are simply pursuing what they believe IS the best policy for Israel and the Jewish people. The frustration I feel, and share with Laor, is saved for the Israeli majority which is not prepared to end the monopoly.
The reasons for why they refuse to do so are many and complicated. Laor suggests that it has to do with fear of intermarriage. I am not all certain that he is right about that, but he alludes to another issue which lies at the heart of any majority’s decision to cede power to a small minority which doesn’t even serve the majority’s interests. What is that reason? The majority is actually getting exactly what they want.
Israel’s Jewish majority overwhelmingly defines itself as either “secular” or “traditional”, and without a long explanation of these terms, that translates into a population which does not live according the dictates of rabbinate. Despite that fact, this majority refuses to take itself seriously enough to proclaim that it’s Jewishness is every bit as real and authentic as is that of the Rabbinate. And because of that, the majority gives real power to those they deem the “real Jews” i.e. the rabbinate.
So, as is often the case in democracies, the citizens get exactly what they want – even if they, or we, don’t want to admit it.
It’s time for Israel’s Jews, and all Jews for that matter, not to mention all people, to admit that when one is fortunate enough to live in a democracy — in any place where the free exercise of faith is assured or the ability to change who has religious power is not a life-endangering task (think Iran), the state of faith in the states where we live is a reflection of who we really are, what we really believe and what we really want.
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