Sunday, June 05, 2011

Why Do They Hate Us?

There is an op-ed in Ynet by Assaf Wohl that should offer us food for thought. Why he asks are rabbis hated? I think that the rabbis who run the rabbinate ought to be asking that question themselves.

I assume that the writer is not religious which is what makes this significant. He is telling us the actual perspective of the secular public of which he is a part. Especially targeted for anger are the Charedi rabbis. Why is there such anger?

In answer to the question Mr. Whol presents a list of things that that irk the secular public and contribute to that anger:

Through the Rabbinate they force Israel’s citizens to get married, divorce, convert and set their clocks the haredi way. And as we know, depriving human beings of freedom provokes fury. Hence, one needs great chutzpa to force people to behave in ways they don’t wish to adopt.

Although I certainly sympathize with his frustration I have to ask, under whose jurisdiction should these things be? With the exception of changing the clocks - marriage, divorce, and conversions should be under the jurisdiction of a rabbinate shouldn’t they? One can certainly debate whether Chumros or Kulos are used in applying Halacha. But there is no question that these items are religion based and as such should be governed by a religious body. In a Jewish state, that should be rabbis.

But his point is well taken. He sees the rabbinate as riding roughshod over an unwilling public. And with the Charedi takeover, he sees even more people being excluded from the decision making process. This has become painfully obvious in the conversion controversy where Charedi rabbis and Religious Zionist rabbis have butted heads over the terms of conversion.

Add to that -true or not - the perception is that the rabbinate is a ‘good ole boys’ network that is more interested in giving cronies relatively high paying jobs than it is in serving the public - and it’s easy to see why Rabbis are so hated.

The solution, as I have said so many times is to stop religious coercion. Instead of trying to shove religion down people’s throats – people who have no interest in it - they ought to take a page from Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman. Trying to force people to be religious who don’t want to be - via legislation these rabbis dictate to their legislative surrogates in the Knesset can only make secular Jews run in the other way and hate rabbis even more. Contrast that with the reaction secular soldiers had to the non-judgmental approach of Rabbi Grossman. This is a no brainer to me.

Of course restructuring a system where church and state is integrated into one where there is a separation of church and state would be an ideal solution to me. That is the American model which is what Mr. Whol suggests. Orthodoxy in all of its manifestations pretty much thrives in America in an unfettered way. Secular Jews do not hate rabbis here. With rare exception rabbis of all denominations are respected. And that - I would suggest- makes outreach much easier in America than it is in Israel.

However the current system in place in Israel gives rabbis a lot of power. They are not about to give that up. But they can turn the lemon into which the rabbinate has evolved into the lemonade that it could be. All they need to do is look at the Grossman model and not stop legislating religious mandates that are not only ignored but are the cause of increased resentment.

Just because they now have the power to legislate a more Halachic state does not mean that they should be doing it. One has to be able to see and understand that doing so might actually be resulting in less observance rather than more. And that it instead may be feeding a very real pushback.

How serious of a pushback? Could this end up in the kind of popular uprising seen in Arab countries? I doubt it. But the more religious coercion there is the greater chance that it could happen. I think that Charedi leaders ought to be thinking about that.