Jul 6, 2009

Rabbi Andy Sacks in Jpost: "Desperately Seeking a Chief Rabbi"

Desperately Seeking a Chief Rabbi: Help Wanted:  The City of Jerusalem seeks two Chief Rabbis
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Monday Jul 06, 2009


Qualifications for one: male, Zionist, "able to embrace all elements of Jerusalem's diverse populace and connect the entire Jewish people to Jerusalem,  including secular Israelis who love Jerusalem and who serve in the army." (Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat).

Qualifications for the second: male, clothed in black, non-Zionist, intolerant, won't eat food under the hashgacha [supervision] of the Chief Rabbinate, intolerant of non-Orthodox streams and of secular Jews, against army service, related to another present or former chief rabbi.

So there you have it. Jerusalem has been without a chief rabbi for some time. We have trouble "right here in River City" but not because we lack a chief rabbi. 

Who really needs one? The haredi (fervently Orthodox) population certainly does not. Many reject the authority of the state and have a rabbinate of their own.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, left, (PHOTO:
Ariel Jerozolimski) and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo
Amar, right (PHOTO: AP)

The Masorti and Reform support abolishing the institution entirely. The secular need these rabbis only for marriage and would support changing the laws to allow for alternative ways to marry.

The tradition has been for there to be two chief rabbis - one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi. Thus there are two chief rabbis of the state of Israel and there have traditionally been two for Jerusalem. But imagine hiring a government civil servant on the basis of ethnicity. Tel Aviv put an end to that nonsense (which today only serves to create jobs for the otherwise unemployable) by budgeting for only one chief  rabbi.

Shas spiritual leader and former Sephardi chief rabbi
Ovadia Yosef. Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski

In Jerusalem, where there is a growing backlash against the haredi residents setting the agenda for the city- the talk is now of one Zionist chief rabbi and one haredi chief rabbi. Indeed the scuttlebutt is that the  haredi Shas political party, whose guru is former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, will accept a Zionist rabbi if Yosef's son, Yitzhak, is appointed as the other.

Sure, why not? The son of former Chief Rabbi Meir Lau is now Chief Rabbi of Modi'in. Far be it from me to suggest that nepotism was involved and that there were no other equally-qualified candidates. Now David Lau is not anti-Zionist but he is adamantly opposed to the growing trend of greater participation of women in Orthodox synagogues and to women's prayer groups. He has also been a vociferous critic of the non-Orthodox movements.

Barkat has said that he wants a Zionist rabbi who has served in the army and who raises his children to serve in the army.

Rachel Azariya, an official at the Jerusalem Municipality, said that another criterion for being considered Zionist is "seeing the creation of the Jewish state as an event with religious significance. A Zionist rabbi recites the Hallel prayer on Yom Ha'Atzmaut ( Independence Day)." Azariya also said "the ideal Zionist rabbi should also be moderate in his view regarding gender issues and relations with Arabs."

I agree. If we must have a chief rabbi then I would support a rabbi who would demand an end to rioting over an open parking lot on Shabbat. (Where are the rioters when it comes to the thousands who park on Shabbat for football? Would they have secular Jews and tourists drive for an extra half hour in search of the limited spots and finally end up parking on the sidewalk?) I would want a chief rabbi who shows respect for all of the denominations, even while feeling they may be on the wrong path.

The haredim have threatened to boycott the Chief Rabbinate if a non-haredi is elected (the rules of who votes are very complicated). You know what? Who cares? Let them boycott! One haredi member of the City Council, Shlomo Rosenstein, said "If there's a rabbi whose level or Halachic views do not correspond with the haredi demands, the spiritual leaders will call on the community to shun the Jerusalem rabbinate."    

Shun away!

Jewish tradition tells us that to serve God means to cause God's name to be respected by all. I am a religious Zionist who believes that Israel must offer a home to all Jews, and this must be particularly so in its capital, the City of Peace.