By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The collusion between secular Israelis and extreme Orthodoxy has a long and ignominious history. The mixture of cynical indifference and a seemingly visceral belief that authentic Judaism must be Orthodox continues to dominate the political realm in the land. To repeat the old adage: Many Israelis insist that the synagogue they don’t go to must be Orthodox.
Since his election as president a year or so ago, Reuven Rivlin has come to epitomize this stance. Though he admits to being non-observant, he refuses, for example, to call Reform rabbis “Rabbi.” In this he follows a previous incumbent Moshe Katsav, not exactly a presidential role model. More recently Rivlin cancelled hosting a Bar Mitzvah ceremony involving disabled children because it was to be conducted under Conservative auspices.
In an attempt to ease the stranglehold that the Orthodox rabbinate has on the country, the previous government was about to introduce legislation that would allow local rabbis to perform conversions thus making it more “user friendly,” especially for new immigrants whose status is so often questioned by the Orthodox establishment. The current government – with the same prime minister – has just cancelled it.
At the same time it has also removed rabbinic courts from the jurisdiction of the ministry of justice in favour of the ministry of religious affairs.
One of the many consequences of this is likely to be that the growing number of restaurants that chose “private” kashrut certification in place of the bureaucratic and worse procedure of the rabbinate may now be prosecuted.
Habayit Hayehudi representing a milder, more nationalistic form of Orthodoxy voted for the devolution of rabbinic authority in the previous government. Its representatives in the current cabinet are said to have objected to the reversal, but, of course, there’s no evidence hat they intend to resign in protest.
Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition, accused the government of cynicism and hypocrisy, but when his party was in power, it colluded as much with the Orthodox establishment as is being done today.
The Reform movement and perhaps also the Conservative movement will react appropriately to the retrograde steps taken by the present government, but they aren’t likely to affect change. Though many Israelis admit to favouring Conservative and Reform Judaism, they too seem to be afflicted by the illusion that what the Orthodox want the Orthodox must get.
Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, seems to be more consistent and more genuinely committed to religious pluralism in Israel. He’s reported to have said to the leaders of the World Jewish Congress recently that Israel is the only country in the world where not all Jews enjoy religious freedom.
Avigdor Lieberman, the former foreign minister and now the prime minister’s principal foe – and a secularist – predicts that the current government will fall before the end of the year. Perhaps he knows something that’s not apparent to many others. But there can be no dispute that if the government does fall, it won’t be over having sold out to the Orthodox. Not enough people care about that, alas.