Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Which Bear Is Poking Which?

As those following the news know, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, is coming up for a review before the Rabbanut, ostensibly because he's turning 75 but more likely because he's a non-Chareidi rabbi in a position of authority in a political system where the Chareidi leadership is looking for payback after its two year stint in the opposition in the government.
It also doesn't help his cause that he's a well-known maverick when it comes to innovation, the role of women in Judaism and views of Chrisianity.  As Rav Avraham Gordimer, Cross Current's new attack boy against Open Orthodoxy, points out, Rabbi Riskin has veered away from mainstream Modern Orthodoxy and into the territory of Open Orthodoxy.  He has expressed odd opinions about Chrisianity and its supposed saviour and recently ordained a woman for one of his shuls in all but name.  As Rav Gil Student noted recently, once upon a time Rabbi Riskin was an avante garde figure with great ideas but also a sense of need for guidance by the great halachic luminaries he grew up under.  Somewhere along the line he arrogated the position of great luminary for himself.  Whereas he once vetted his good ideas by his elders, he now seems himself as the elder and as a result he seems to feel that he now sets the boundaries.
What complicates matters is Rabbi Riskin as a person.  From multiple sources it is quite clear that he is a decent, loving Jewish leader.  He inspires his followers, seeks peace between Jew and Jew along with peace between Jew and Arab and tries to present a positive model of Torah observance.  It raises the old conundrum that Torah Judaism often has to struggle with.  I can eat in the home of a complete menuval as long as he keeps properly kosher but can't eat in the home of a practical saint who doesn't.  This is another reminder that while Judaism should be synonymous with ethical and decent behaviour, it often is not which leads to an awful choice - halachic observance or human decency.
This is relevant here because, while Rabbi Riskin may indeed be nearly off the derech in some ways from mainstream Modern Orthodoxy, he is being opposed by leaders in the Rabbanut who, while their ritual halachic performance might be impeccable, aren't half the mentch Riskin is.
So who's right?  On one hand Rabbi Riskin is poking the bear that is the Rabbanut.  Like it or not that institution is controlled lock, stock and bekishe by the Chareidi leadership and they demand Chareidi standards of their employee, especially their prominent ones.  The initiatives of Open Orthodoxy are not some of their favourite right now.  If he, as a notable employee of theirs is going to poke them they're going to hit back.
On the other hand Rabbi Riskin, due to his years of community work and outreach, his long history of teaching Torah in an accessible way to the masses and his genuine chen has many supporters.  What's more, he's not alone in not liking the direction that the Rabbanut is taking and this brings him many allies, including the rabbonim of Tzohar, for example.  The public backlash against a forced retirement might cause the Rabbanut a significant headache.
Does the Rabbanut care about such a thing?  One might almost believe that causing an outcry from the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy would be a badge of pride for them.  Forcing Rabbi Riskin to retire from his official position also wouldn't have the devastating effect they think it might.  He still has his Ohr Stone yeshiva, he still has his shul and all his followers and, of course, his book income.  He will remain influential and famous.  The notoriety from this incident won't hurt either.
But all this begs the question: the Rabbanut's official reason for the review is that Rabbi Riskin is 75 years old.  Hey, anyone remember the last time the great "Gedolim" who are all older than that had to show up for a review based on age?


Michael Sedley said...

You raise some interesting points, but the current Chief rabbanut (at last Rabbi Lau) is far from Charedi, and presents a very positive image of Judaism - which is how he got elected to the position; the secular mayors of major towns including the Mayors of Modi'in and Tel Aviv strongly backed him, and they hold the balance of power in the elections for Chief rabbi.

Rabbi Lau is far more moderate on almost all issues than his predecessors, and has made many changes to the way basic services are provided by the Rabbanut, including kashrut, Gittin, and Eruvin. However he has made these changes within the norms of mainstream halacha, as opposed to Rabbi Riskin who is trying to stretch the limits of Halacha to the point that he is outside the mainstream.

I think that the main opposition to Rabbi Riskin has come from the Shas camp, i.e., the Yosef brothers and Ariye Deri.

ChaimSmall said...

How many of the great "Gedolim" actually work for the Rabbanut?