By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Israelis appear to like the Pope more than their Chief Rabbis. 50% of all Israelis (the highest figure in any non-Christian country) approve of the current leader of the Catholic Church and only 25% disapprove while 67% of Israelis are against the continued existence of the country’s chief rabbinate.
The data are cited in an article by Amnon Rubinstein, distinguished academic and Israel’s former minister of education, in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post. He concludes that “there is a substantial majority for a liberal, pluralistic regime in all matters of state and religion.” You can sense it almost daily if you keep your eyes and ears open.
This has, of course, important implications that the political parties sooner or later (though not yet, alas) must take into account. Rubinstein again: “This amazing contrast between Israeli public opposition to Orthodox Jewish views and the de facto state of affairs is a significant feature of Israeli society.”
It’s felt in very many walks of life, notably in matters of marriage and divorce, and in determining Jewish status. Though the rabbinic courts can put a man in jail for refusing to grant his estranged way a divorce (in Jewish law, he has to take the initiative), there are many women who still cannot remarry under Orthodox auspices. And then there’re individuals who are being refused Jewish status, even though they regard themselves as Jews, serve in the army and don’t profess any other religion.
As a result, there’re is a growing number of Israelis who refuse to have anything to do with the rabbinate. They go abroad (Cyprus, for example) to register their marriage there (which the State of Israel would recognize) and then have the traditional Jewish ceremony conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi of their choice rather than submit to the warped bureaucracy, often coupled with offensive insensitivity, of the official rabbinate.
Similarly, some Israelis buy burial plots in private, usually kibbutz, cemeteries in order not to be subjected to the indignities of the official burial societies.
Of late, a kashrut certification body has challenged the hegemony of the rabbinate. It calls itself Hashgacha Pratit, which in Jewish theology is the term for divine providence but which literally means “private supervision.”
The Jerusalem section of the same issue of the Post reports that there’re a number of restaurants in the city that observe all the dietary laws and aren’t open on Shabbat yet refuse to seek official certification because of the exorbitant fees and e.g., the rabbinate’s insistence that only sprayed vegetables be used (out of pathological fear of living creatures smuggling themselves into your salad). Owners of these eating establishments welcome the new certification body headed by an American-born Orthodox rabbi.
His origin is relevant, because the Israeli rabbinate has created a deep rift not only between non-Orthodox movements in Israel and in the Diaspora but also within Orthodoxy itself where many, especially American observant Jews, feel scandalized by the arbitrary restrictions of the Israeli rabbinic establishment.
To repeat: we’re still a long way away from the separation of religion and state in Israel. The next elections aren’t likely to change things – partly out of the need for Orthodox endorsement and partly out of irrational respect for a Judaism most don’t practice – but sooner or late an Israeli government will have to act.