Chief Rabbinate Finally Getting Its Just Desserts

Recent backlash in the form of alternative conversion court should come as no surprise, after long years of obtuse behavior by Chief Rabbinate.

Haaretz Editorial
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A Judaism conversion class at the Beit Daniel Reform synagogue in Tel Aviv, February 2014.
A conversion to Judaism class at the Beit Daniel Reform synagogue in Tel AvivCredit: Nir Keidar
Haaretz Editorial

The Chief Rabbinate, the current and former chief rabbis, the rabbinical court judges and conversion court judges, the Religious Services Ministry, and also the religious parties – which, ever since the state was founded, have controlled the religious establishment and treated it like their own property – have all richly earned the subversive activity that has been gathering steam against them for years, and more so recently.

Long years of obtuse, rigid behavior toward both Jewish citizens of Israel and Jews from abroad who need its services, abuse of women and decisions made via patently unacceptable processes, have all done their bit to bring about the wave of independent activity that is destroying the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly and de facto privatizing some of Israel’s religious services. The latest backlash was the establishment of an independent conversion court that will compete against the state conversion courts and be run by leading religious Zionist rabbis – people who, until Tuesday, wholeheartedly supported the sanctity and supremacy of the Chief Rabbinate.

When the current government canceled a conversion reform approved by its predecessor, which had been a tiny step in the right direction, an alternative to the state-run conversion system arose. Similar developments had already occurred in the realms of kashrut, marriage and burial, and now, it’s happening with conversion as well.

Israel needs its religious services to be privatized and separated from the state. The religious establishment, which has been handed over to the religious parties and made itself loathed under a rotten deal with the secular ruling parties from both left and right, is the clearest proof of this. Still, there’s no reason to rejoice that religious Zionist rabbis have now seized the steering wheel – and not for the first time – because they, too, perpetuate and bolster Orthodox control over Israel, while some hold ultra-nationalist and even racist views.

Regardless of this rebellion against the rabbinate, the state ought to equalize the rights of all its citizens and immediately stop discriminating against more than 350,000 Israelis who are shamefully defined as having “no religion” and aren’t entitled to marry within Israel’s borders. Even an Israeli with “no religion” who leads a completely secular lifestyle is supposed to receive full rights, without having to pretend to observe Shabbat or kashrut and without having to try to find favor in the eyes of any rabbi.

Nevertheless, the establishment of this alternative conversion court should be welcomed, because it represents a different outlook than that of the rigid establishment, and therefore shows everyone the true state of the Chief Rabbinate. The day is drawing near when the rabbinate will either have to change from top to bottom or be abolished.

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