Israel is having an election this year. Well, it is a kind of election. A committee of 150 individuals that includes members of the Knesset, Orthodox Rabbis, mayors, and other notables will chose the next Sephardic and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis of Israel. Last week, I explained why one particular candidate, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, is the wrong man for the job. This week, I want to explain why the whole institution should be thrown out completely.
The State Rabbinate, which the Chief Rabbis lead, is the least trusted institution in Israel. There is good reason why the majority of Israelis have a low opinion of it. The two current Chief Rabbis are both in the middle of scandals. The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, is currently under house arrest for money laundering. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, has been hiding in Spain for weeks, too afraid to face his own Shas party because he supported the wrong man to replace him. Of the eight men fighting to fill these two positions, they are all either the sons of former Chief Rabbis or relatives of sitting members of the Knesset. Rabbinic corruption is a family affair.
How did this institution fall so far? From money laundering to racist incitement to plain old nepotism, the Chief Rabbis could not be further removed from the lives and needs of most Israelis. Instead of trying to guide us through some of the most difficult social issues of the day, like agunot, or surrogacy, they are fixated on pulling Israel into the dark ages.
This outdated institution is more than just a black eye to Israel’s democracy; it is a missed opportunity. Why couldn’t the Chief Rabbi of the world’s only Jewish state be a symbol of tolerance and virtue? The motto of the Rabbinate reads: HaYashan Yitchadesh V’HaChadash Yitkadesh (The old will become new and the new will be sanctified). This has been the motto of the Chief Rabbi’s office since the beginning of the state.
It is time to throw out the whole Rabbinate. This symbolic position represents more than its own corruption. It is a constant reminder that Jews in Israel lack the religious choices that Jews abroad enjoy. It reminds Israelis that there is only one recognized way to marry and divorce because there is only one recognized way to be Jewish.
In Israel, we have two Chief Rabbis but only one way to be Jewish. More than getting rid of this irrelevant post, we need to change this reality in Israel. This week, IRAC is holding a rally to bring attention to how irrelevant we believe the post of Chief Rabbi is in Israel. Learn more on Facebook.
Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center.