Years ago, The Jerusalem Post ran an op-ed piece about how useless an institution the Chief Rabbinate was. The question the writer asked was: Who exactly did the Rabbinate serve? Chasidim follow the rulings of their Rebbes while the Litvish crowd has an established hierarchy they rely on. If the Rabbinate says "A" and the leaders of those two groups say "B", the Chareidim will do "B". As for the National Religious, the Rabbinate was often not in synch with their religious views because it was dominated by Chareidi rabbis who didn't reflect the Dati Leumi philosophy, religiously or politically. And finally, the Chilonim, almost by definition, don't cae about the Rabbinate except when they need to get married or divorced.
In the end, the conclusion was that the only purpose for the Rabbinate was to create kashrus stickers for restaurants and hotels so frum Jews coming from America would have where to eat.
I was thinking about this when I ran across this article from the Post (thanks to FailedMessiah for posting it). I mentioned the problems with the now-upon us shemittah year in a previous post as well as my own personal position. Still, it's nice to see that the Dati Leumi leadership has finally had enough with the Chareidim pushing them around and keeping them in line. In short:
In a move that threatens to split the Chief Rabbinate, a group of religious Zionist rabbis rebelled against the state's supreme rabbinic authority and announced Tuesday that they would set up an alternative kosher supervision apparatus during the shmita (sabbatical) year.
"If local rabbis refuse to recognize fruits and vegetables grown by Jewish farmers during the shmita year as kosher, then we will," said Rabbi Rafi Freuerstein, chairman of the Tzohar organization.
"We believe it is important to strengthen Jewish farmers and Jewish agriculture and provide reasonably-priced produce to the Jewish nation," he said.
What I find most interesting, however, is the Rabbinate's (ie Chareidi) response to this show of independence:
"If the rabbinate is dismantled as a result of internal fighting, we risk losing national recognition for rabbinic authority," said Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Chief Rabbinate's governing council.
Rabbi Moshe Rauchverger, another council member, said that Tzohar threatened to break the rabbinate's monopoly over religious services and open it up to Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism.
"If Tzohar starts providing kosher supervision, what is to stop Reform and Conservative from doing the same?" said Rauchverger.
Each of those arguments is easily rebutted. Firstly, as I mentioned at the start of the post, the idea of national recognition for rabbinic authority is a fiction. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ashkenazic or Sephardic, has no halachic authority and is outranked by dozens of Chareidi leaders in that community. Secondly the idea that Reform and Conservativism will start doing their own kashrus certification is laughable. Fully 100% of Reform and something like 95% of Conservatives do not keep kosher according to objective halachic standards. As FailedMessiah has noted in his ongoing campaign against the Rubashkins, the Conservatives can't even get their ethical Tzedek hechsher off the ground. Now they're going to open up shop in Israel?
There is a hope for the Chief Rabbinate. Remove the Chareidim from it and make it an exclusively Dati Leumi institution. If that happens, there will be more a chance to make the institution relevant to the average Jew in Israeli, something that isn't happening now.