Chief Rabbinate Upset Over 'Secular Rabbi' Ordination Ceremony

Rabbinate's legal counsel: It is appropriate to prevent the public from mistakenly believing that this activity is correct and legal.

Yair Ettinger
Haaretz Correspondent
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Yair Ettinger
Haaretz Correspondent

Haredi entities, beginning with Israel's Chief Rabbinate, are upset over a "secular rabbi" ordination ceremony that was scheduled to take place on Friday at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to stop the event and the activities of the "impersonators," as he called them. The ceremony is for seven individuals who studied for three years to become secular community leaders and conduct Jewish lifestyle events: weddings, britot mila and Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies.

These seven are the first graduating class of Tmura Israel, the local branch of the U.S.-based International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which is not connected to the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism. Rabbi Sivan Maas, the first person in Israel to receive the title of "secular humanistic rabbi," is director of Tmura.

The curriculum includes scriptural study, emphasizing Judaism as a culture, not a religion, and community leadership studies, including learning about Jewish communities in Israel and abroad.

The graduates will offer their services to non-religious people who want to hold rites that "do not place God at the center, and sometimes ignore God entirely," in the organization's words. Tmura also endeavors to provide services to those who are not Jewish according to religious law.

In his letter to Mazuz, the rabbinate's legal counsel wrote, "it is appropriate to prevent this serious mistake in order to prevent the public from mistakenly believing that this activity is correct and legal. There is also a suspicion of impersonation, since the title of rabbi is reserved by law and Jewish tradition for those who have passed the ordination examinations that have been accepted for generations."

Metzger expressed similar concerns. "Just as it is inconceivable for a plumber to pass himself off as an arterial surgeon, even though both professions deal with blocked pipes, or for a painter to present himself as an architect even though both draw buildings, so too a person who has decided to be secular and to conduct religious ceremonies cannot be called a rabbi," Metzger said.