Ultra-Orthodox Candidates Elected as Israel’s Chief Rabbis
By Jodi Rudoren, New York Times, July 24, 2013
JERUSALEM — In a victory for the ultra-Orthodox political parties that were shut out of Israel’s governing coalition this year, two candidates they backed were elected as Israel’s chief rabbis on Wednesday, defeating a rabbi who had promised, in an unusually aggressive campaign, to transform the troubled rabbinate.
Rabbi David Lau, 47, the chief rabbi of Modi’in, a large bedroom community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was elected for the Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent), and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, 61, the head of a yeshiva and an author of 40 books on Jewish law, for the Sephardim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin).
The Rabbis were elected to 10-year terms in the $100,000-a-year job. They will rotate leadership of Israel’s rabbinical
courts, which control marriage, divorce and adoption for the nation’s six million Jews.
The rabbinate also oversees the supervision of kosher food, conversion and other aspects of daily life here, and it is condemned by many critics as a corrupt patronage farm. (Rabbi Lau will replace Yona Metzger, who is under house arrest on suspicion of fraud, bribery and embezzlement.)
The rabbis were chosen not by a popular vote of the citizenry but by 150 mayors, rabbis, ministers, judges, lawmakers and electors handpicked by politicians who met for three hours on Wednesday afternoon at a Jerusalem hotel.
The Chief Rabbinate is the supreme religious authority for the Jewish people in Israel, and is in charge of administering all religious arrangements. Two rabbis stand at the head of the Rabbinate: an Ashkenazi rabbi and a Sephardi rabbi. Each one represents different traditions and rituals.
The Ultra-Orthodox establishment has strict control of all religious rituals and many aspects of ddaily life: Birth, marriage and divorce; death and funerals; conversion to Judaism; kosher certifications and supervision of Israeli Rabbinical courts.
“Israelis unwilling to liberate
their heritage from the rabbis”
The fact that two sons of former chief rabbis won the position shows that nepotism is the real victor, Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, which perfectly fits the grotesque nature of the institution.
“There is no hope for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel,” he writes. “Not as long as it is joined at the hip to politics, and not as long as Israelis are unwilling to liberate their Jewish heritage from the rabbis.… With Yosef and Lau, the Chief Rabbinate will remain nepotistic, superfluous, gray, corrupt and irrelevant to Israeli society, free to bully the people who need its services. Until the people rise up and demand that it be abolished, this is the rabbinate we deserve.” (timesofisrael.com)
Does Israel Need A Chief Rabbi?
Uri Regev, Hiddush 25-09-2012
A few months ago when, a Supreme Court ruling ordered the State of Israel to recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis serving in rural communities, the Chief Rabbis declared a war against the court ruling, demonizing Reform Judaism as “destroyers, terrorists, God’s enemies, evil” and worse. Israel’s leaders were silent then. …
The overwhelming majority of Israelis want to see its founding promises of “freedom of religion and conscience” and “equality regardless of religion” fully realized. They shudder from the mere thought that [..] Israel will turn into a theocracy.
It is not the civil laws and institutions of democracy which need to be banished, but rather the Chief Rabbinate. It is time to reconsider the need for it.
It is clear to all in Israel that the Rabbinate turned into a payoff to the ultra-Orthodox parties.
There is no parallel to the institution of the Chief Rabbinate in any Diaspora community, and it has no precedent in history. It was invented by the Ottoman Empire, kept by its heirs (the British Mandate over Palestine), and became a convenient trading card in the hands of Israeli governments.
Hiddush strives to get the political establishment in Israel and the Diaspora to stop ignoring problems of religious freedom and equality in shouldering the civic burden, and to force them to deal with these challenges.
The Declaration of Independence promised Israeli citizens freedom of religion and conscience. But in the state’s 61 years this promise has been realized to a very partial extent.
As a result, democracy and the safeguarding of human rights have been severely undermined. There is no other enlightened democracy in the world where freedom of religion and freedom from religion are in a worse state than in Israel.
The religious legislation that exists in Israel, particularly in the area of marital status, exists elsewhere only in radical Muslim countries. Hiddush statement 2011