Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When Your Own Peers Reject You...

Tzohar founder and leader, Rabbi David Stav
Sometimes I wonder about the real motivations of prominent people that do good things. I have always thought Rabbi David Stav had shaken up the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for entirely unselfish altruistic reasons. Not that I have necessarily changed my mind about him. But at this point, I am just not sure. There are some rabbis that have raised questions about his motivation.

I am not talking about Charedi rabbis. I am talking about Religious Zionist rabbis. The issue at hand is Tzohar, a rabbinic organization founded and led by Rabbi Stav for what he says are idealistic reasons. Reasons I agree with. Such as making Jewish life easier for secular Israelis that have had bad experiences with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. (Hereafter referred to as the Rabbanut.) 

Tzohar has taken a much more sympathetic albeit still Halachic approach to secular Jews and has tried to better and more quickly accommodate their needs. A noble goal. But there are other considerations that might undermine those good intentions - making things much worse than they are now.

Which brings up Tzohar. Rabbi Stav has tackled a situation badly in need of repair: The state of Rabbanut Kashrus supervision. Stories of corrupt Mashgichim (Kashrus supervisors) abound. With the claim of enhanced supervision, ethics, and standards, Tzohar has responded by creating its own Kashrus agency. Which certifies eating establishments without Rabbanut approval or participation.

This has understandably angered the Rabbanut. Which has been granted (by the government - since the very beginning of the State) exclusive control over all things religious. Not the least of which is Kashrus supervision. That means that any organization that wants to offer Kashrus supervision services - must do so under the authority of the Rabbanut. The creation of Tzohar undermines that mandate using loopholes to skirt Israeli law.

I saw this as an improvement in Kashrus supervision so desperately needed in the holy land. But I also understood that it undermines the Rabbanut as the sole governing agency of things religious. Which is why I argued that ultimately they should work together to upgrade Kashrus standards under one banner. The one that is duly authorized by the State: The Rabbanut.

As noted here many times, I am not one of those who wants to see the Rabbanut destroyed. If Israel is going to be a Jewish State it is the Rabbanut that should be defining what that means and setting the standards. There cannot be competing forces, no matter how sincere and ethical they may be. That would undermine the entire process and lead to chaos. Judaism must be defined by Halacha first and practicality second. 

In a State where the majority are not fully observant, that requires the wisdom to navigate the path of compromise without undermining Halacha. Israel’s founding fathers recognized that and wisely created one governing body for that purpose: The Rabbanut.

But as also noted, the Rabbanut has a history of corruption.  A Tzohar created in order to force corruption out of the Rabbanut  would have been the right move. Becoming an independent entity that competes with the Rabbanut and whose goal might actually be to replace it - is not. When I spoke with officials of Tzohar last fall, my impression was that they actually work with the Rabbanut on many issues and do not wish to replace them.

Where does the truth lie?

It appears it might just be the latter. From ArutzSheva
Senior religious Zionist rabbis met with Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau on Sunday to discuss their concern about an alternative Kashrut certification authority initiated by the Tzohar Zionist rabbinical organization, a move seen as undermining the Chief Rabbinate's authority in Israel.
The four venerable leading rabbis are the Dean of Yeshivat Or Etzion and head of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva high school network, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Dean of the Beit El Yeshiva Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rabbi of Kiryat Shmona Rabbi Tzfania Drori, and retired Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaakov Ariel…
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel argued it would be forbidden to eat in a place supervised by Tzohar's kashrut project. 
What about Rabbi Stav's motives? Here is what Shas MK Michale Malchieli said: 
"Today it was again proven that at the head of the Tzohar organization are people who have not yet succeeded in accepting the fact that they lost the elections for Chief Rabbi of Israel. Instead of accepting the electorate's opinion, they oppose the Rabbinate through all kinds of odd and delusional ventures. 
That could easily be attributed to partisan politics. Charedi leaders want more control over religious matters and have in recent years gained much greater influence in Rabbanut decisions. (All while  rejecting its authority over anything Charedi). But when your own peers start questioning you and rejecting what you’ve done, I start wondering about the entire enterprise. And wondering what its real motives are. 

I have not seen any reaction from Rabbi Stav or Tzohar. It will be interesting to see how they will respond. Until then, I would not rely on their Hashgacha. Not with that kind of opposition - no matter how meticulous they may be.