Not only did the Haredim maintain their control over the Rabbinate, but they are coming back into government faster than you think.
Published in Israel Hayom, July 25, 2013.
There is no denying that last night’s Rabbinate vote was a crushing defeat for the Religious Zionist community, and a resounding victory for Haredi politics. You might say: Arye Deri 2: Naftali Bennett 0. It might also be said that Zionism and the State of Israel’s Jewish future lost out to the Haredim – but I’m not sure that the secular public yet realizes this.
While extraordinarily disappointing for Religious Zionists, like me, who had backed Rabbi David Stav’s bid for the post of Chief Rabbi, the result is not too surprising. Stav’s candidacy had always been a long shot.
Almost all the rabbis and religious court judges on the electing body (98 of them; or two-thirds of the entire panel) were Haredi or Haredi-affiliated rabbis – most of who had been appointed to their positions by the Haredi chief rabbis and religious affairs ministers of the past twenty years.
Furthermore, Prime Minister Netanyahu and former Prime Minister Olmert worked intensively behind the scenes to ensure the election of the Haredi candidates for Chief Rabbi, to spite Bennett in Netanyahu’s case, and in order to strengthen their alliances with the Haredi political parties with an eye towards future coalition governments.
Make no mistake about it. Not only did the Haredim maintain their control over the Rabbinate, but they are coming back into government faster than you think.
Thirdly, the Religious Zionist community itself was divided going into these elections between conservative and more liberal camps, with the former camp failing to back Stav, and the Bayit Yehudi party backing Stav only late in the game and somewhat half-heartedly.
Stav’s valiant campaign nevertheless had one salutary impact: His emphasis on “sever panim yafot” – on putting a smile on the face of the Rabbinate – seems to have rubbed off on the other contenders. Even the winners, Rabbis Lau and Yosef, are now talking about the need for a more user-friendly Rabbinate.
Unfortunately, that is about as far as it is going to go in terms of change that can be expected from the Rabbinate under the Haredi Chief Rabbis Lau and Yosef: a bit more friendliness. But they will implement none of the other very-necessary and deep-seated changes in the Rabbinate bureaucracy or in halachic approach that Rabbi Stav had wanted to implement.
Lau and Yosef will fight the re-zoning of marriage registrations across regional jurisdictional lines – which is supposed to allow for real competition between rabbis in the provision of honest and accommodating rabbinical services. They will not back halachic prenuptial agreements – which could void so many later problems in cases of divorce.
They will not go out of their way to assist Russian (and other) immigrants prove their Jewish lineage for conversion purposes, as Stav would have. They have no plans to bring transparency and new ethical guidelines to the kashrut system – and as a result, consumers will continue to face unnecessarily high food prices and have to pinch their noses at the stench of corruption in the kashrut system.
They will not back the lenient practice of “heter mechira” (a halachic means of allowing agriculture to continue during the sabbatical year), dealing a severe blow to Israeli agriculture, to Israeli public health, and to food prices.
And you can expect no reform whatsoever of the criteria for the appointment of neighborhood rabbis, city rabbis and rabbinical court judges. Don’t expect a more intellectual and Zionist Rabbinate to emerge over the next ten years. The Haredi-dominated “Rabbinocracy” will continue, I’m afraid, to misuse its powers: Applying stringencies in matters of personal status and conversion, creating bureaucratic obstacles to practicing Judaism in Israel, and fostering resentment within both religious and secular society and among Jews around the world.
All this is one more sad result of the unfortunate Oslo peace process. In the 1990s, the political Left handed the keys to Israel’s Jewish character to the Ultra-Orthodox, in order to purchase Haredi support for the Oslo process and the disengagement. Haredi rabbis began a slow but inexorable conquest, with the backing of the reigning Labor Party, of city rabbinates, religious courts, conversion courts, municipal religious councils, kashrut agencies and more, turning the Rabbinate into a contrary, backwards force that created more problems than it solved. Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox rabbis, who had built and controlled the Rabbinate for the country’s first 40 years and who were generally much more attuned to the needs of the non-religious and Zionist public, were pushed out.
Yesterday’s election result, solidifying a Haredi-Secular alliance (for Netanyahu and Olmert), may herald the coming an Oslo III accord, with Haredi factions once again backing far-reaching diplomatic moves in concert with secular politicians at the expense of the more right-wing Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox public.
Where does all this leave the future of religion and state in Israel? Moving rapidly towards decentralization and privatization, for better and (mainly) for worse – which will be the focus of this column tomorrow.