Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Another Bad Idea

Years ago, then-chief rav Meir Lau was asked about his view on the different "streams" in Judaism.  The questioner meant Conservativism and Reform. Rav lau answerd something like "What, like Ashkenazi and Sephardi?"
Within the Torah-observant segment of the Jewish nation, it has always been well understood that there may be different expressions of Judaism but any religious groups that do not a fortiori based themselves on the acceptance of Matan Torahi and the authority of Chazal and the subsequent law codes are not legitimate religious groups.  You cannot create a movement in which such core principles of Judaism are abandoned and then turn around and call yourself a religious expression of that Judaism.
Needless to say, those in the so-called streams don't see it that way.  While I may compeltely disagree with them I can understand that they have a point of view based on their having redfined Judaism to remove those core principles.  We say you can't be a good Jew without Sinai.  They say that you can.
The fly in the ointment in this situation is the State of Israel.  Whereas almost everywhere else in the world there are no central Jewish authorities that have official jurisdiction over one's Jewish life, in Israel the Rabbanut does have such power.  If you want to get married or divorced, you have to go through them.  In recent years the difficulty with such a situation has become obvious as Chareidi elements have taken over most of the power positions within the organization and brought their particular standards with them. 
Were this to be a beis din somewhere in New York, such a thing wouldn't matter much.  In Israel it affects the religious life of every Jew.  And when intolerance to the umpteenth degree becomes one those particular Chareidi standards, the situation only worsens.
This is why I am opposed to Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi's recent statement that non-Orthodox Jewish groups in Israel should be outlawed:
When in 2008 it was reestablished under its current title, some of the responsibilities returned to the ministry, while others remained where they had been assigned. The rabbinic courts, for example, remain part of the Justice Ministry.
But a more dominant factor in threatening the rabbinate’s status are “the extra-parliamentary bodies,” Margi said, such as “the women’s groups who made their struggle with the rabbinate and rabbinic courts their agenda, in order to weaken them as much as possible. These were joined by the Reform and Conservative movements, and recently rabbinic organizations that criticize the rabbinate, and act from outside it.”
The modern Orthodox Tzohar rabbinical group, for example, offers the public a variety of services, including marriage registration and conducting wedding ceremonies in some locales.
Margi also slammed the conduct of “some of the rabbinates in the country that cut themselves off from the public discourse in Israel, and challenged decisions of the Chief Rabbinic Council.”
The minister might have been referring to the four marriage registrars who refused to recognize conversions approved by the Chief Rabbinate – Rabbi Haim Blau of Ashkelon, Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook of Rehovot, Rabbi Yehuda Dov Wolpe of Rishon Lezion and Rabbi Yosef Sheinin of Ashdod.
The rabbinate has decided to allow them to remain in their positions, but refer converts to other marriage registrars instead.
To strengthen its status, Margi called for legislation making the Chief Rabbinate the supreme rabbinical institution in Israel and the world, and wants to move the rabbinate under the ministerial authority of the Religious Services Ministry instead of the Prime Minister’s Office.
He wants to give more weight to adjudications of the chief rabbis regarding legislation pertaining to religious affairs, and empower the rabbinate to reform its internal management, to include online national marriage registration, unifying and strengthening its kashrut supervision, and increasing outreach and the availability of information on Jewish identity.
In addition, Margi called, “to determine by law that there are no streams in Judaism, only one that has been passed down to us from generation to generation.”
Look, on one hand I can appreciate the idea that there should be one Jewish standard in Israel.  Certainly under a halachic government non-observant forms of worship would be prohibited.  However, that kind of government will likely only ever come into existence after God and His Moshiach bring forth our Final Redemption.  The re-appearance of God in history and His confirmation of the truth of Torah would be enough to justify such a halachic stand at that time.  Until then we cannot force non-observant Jews to keep those rulese they refuse to.  Such enforcement only brings resentment and hatred towards Torah observance and those who live in that community.  It does nothing to advance the presence of God and His halacha in this world.
And how would such a law be enforced?  Could anyone seriously believe that the police would have the time and resources to go around to every Conservative and Reform temple in Israel (all two dozen of 'em) and put up "Closed!" notices and locks on the door?  Are there going to be raids on furtive hidden mixed services?  If a woman calls herself a rabbi in public, will she be taken to court?  Seriously, how does Margi expect to enforce such a law?
It's one thing to publicly wish that the Final Redemption were here and that under God's guidance we were living according to His law in Israel, quite another to muse about outlawing freedom of thought and practice when such a move would only lead to an incredible amount of chilul HaShem.  Hopefully this idea won't progress any further than its current state as the subject of a small newspaper ad.

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