The Arrogance of the Rabbi - Comment - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper
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    • Kenneth Stow
    • 01.08.05 | 16:24 (IDT)

    One can agree with Rabbi Melchior's condemnation of the hijacking of Judaism by a group of extremists on the right. And one can agree to deplore the lack of Jewish attachment by Israel's secular majority. Yet one must deplore, too, Rabbi Melchior's obliviousness to the question of how to restore the majority to tradition or at least to a more conscious Jewish identity. The implied assumption is that this will be done under rabbinic leadership, read Orthodox rabbinic leadership. And this is arrogant. Issues of Jewish identity in a modern state are state issues, not those of any rabbinate. A blue ribbon panel composed of Jews of all persuasions should be set--free from politics--the task of determining criteria for who has "Yehudi" enscribed on his or her Identity Card. Recognition must be given, formally, to all rabbis with legitimate credentials, that is, graduates of recognized schools of rabbinic learning, whether they be Reform, Conservative, or other (other, since who knows what Orthodoxy is), to serve communities and to perform marriages. On the other hand, those practices which repel Jews who might approach tradition must come to a swift halt, which is to say, civil marriage must be instituted and more liberal access to conversion (albeit through an agreed upon ceremony by all, for pluralism does have limits). There are thousands, especially of new immigrants, who would gladly become Jews, and who knows whether their children will be more devoted. There must as well be an end to the kind of monopolism that says one observes or one is a "secular." What is better, that a Jew lights candles and says kiddush on a Shabbat eve, and then goes to a restaurant or the cinema, or that a Jew just does the latter? Orthodox answers say no. I have received them. It is time to change the tune. Finally, it is time to legitimize Jewish learning in the universities, to tell the world that there are other fonts of real Jewish knowledge than that possessed by the Orthodox rabbis. Indeed, who put these rabbis where they are in the first place, if not they themselves? Where there is a communal council not elected by all, said the great Meir of Rothenberg in the Middle Ages, then the word of a great scholar should carry the day. Is this really so? Rabbenu Tam a century earlier had preferred that his authority rest on common consent, a very sound medieval legal principle. Today, rabbinic authority derives from conferral or rabbinic status by the descendents of those who took it as though by a coup de état in the first place; very harsh words, but ultimately true. Enough then of rabbinic arrogance. Maybe then, dear Rabbi Melchior, those Jews will come back to the tradition. By the methods you seem to imply, it will never happen. Kenneth Stow is Professor Emeritus of Jewish History, the University of Haifa

    from the article: The deep abyss of Israeli discourse
    First published 00:00 01.08.05 | Last updated 00:00 01.08.05
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