|Conservative Rabbi Dov Haiyun (Times of Israel)|
Israel is not a theocracy. Its laws are not for the most part governed by Torah law. It is a Jewish Democracy that allows non observant Jews to stay non observant with impunity.
That’s how the original status quo agreement at the founding of the State was structured. The Chazon Ish agreed to the religious conditions that existed at the time. Which – as I understand it - basically protected Yeshiva students from the draft and allowed the state to cater to both the religious and non religious communities. Laws relating to that which were in place at the time would remain so.
One of the things agreed upon in this vein was that all religious matters would be in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. No exception.
That worked pretty well until a few years ago. After the FSU desolved and Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel - tons of them did. But many of those were not Halachcly Jewish. (Even though they considered themselves such and were well integrated into the culture). That created a demographic time bomb for the Jewish state. The solution by Religious Zionist rabbis was to convert them as quickly and expediently as possible – using long ago abandoned lenient Halachic opinions that allowed them to remain unobservant. The right wing protested saying those conversions were illegitimate and creating a genealogical nightmare. They managed to get some of their own people involved in the Rabbinate who then sided with them.
Fast forward to today. The esteem of rabbinate has deteriorated rapidly since that time. In most cases undeservedly so. Although some of the criticism may have been deserved a lot of it was political. At least from an Orthodox perspective. If the rabbinate was given control over all matters religious they have a right to implement that mandate in any way they choose. No matter who objects or why. The Rabbinate is Orthodox. Always was from day one. There was never any question about that.
It is their assertion of that very Orthodoxy that is causing so much angst - and even anger among Heterodoxy. Which is what is going on with planned extension of the egalitarian portion of the Kotel.
Heterodox rabbis will have none of this. They see themselves as equals to Orthodoxy. Which is anathema to Orthodoxy and therefore to the Rabbinate.
Which brings me back to Rabbi Haiyun. The State of Israel has – in the spirit of the status quo agreement – passed a law that any marriage ceremony not done under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate is not only illegitimate and not recognized... it is illegal and punishable by a 2 year jail sentence.
I happen to disagree with this law. It will only make martyrs of heterodox rabbis that violate and it will create a massive backlash. Not only by heterodox rabbis but by the entire world that will say that Israel is turning into another Iran.
But as I said, although I disagree with the law I agree with its intent. Which is to eliminate illegitimate weddings from Klal Yisroel. Rabbis like Rabbi Hiyun generally do the kind of weddings that the rabbinate will not do for Halachic reasons. They will for example marry a divorcee to a Kohen, which is forbidden by Halacha. Why should the Rabbinate allow that to happen if they can prevent it?! Although in some cases Chief Rabbinate has used their authority in questionable ways, I believe that in most instances they were acting on behalf of Halacha.
The arrest of Rabbi Haiyun has generated a huge outcry by Heterodox rabbis and secular Jewish organizations that support them. They are fuming over this! From an article in the the Times of Israel here are some of the reactions :
“Today’s actions against Rabbi Haiyun marks a new and dangerous step in the ongoing attack on religious freedom and civil liberties in Israel,” read a statement from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism released late Thursday, expressing “outrage” over the move.
USCJ head Rabbi Steven Wernick sent a sharp letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest the detention, Haaretz reported.
“Bet you didn’t know that performing a non Orthodox wedding in Israel is punishable by 2 years in prison? And now with new nation law, why wouldn’t we be worried about Israel’s direction as a democratic State? This is OUR @RabbiAssembly colleague,” Wernick wrote on Twitter.
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing reports” of Haiyun’s detention, said a statement from US Jewry’s umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York also said it was “disturbed” by the incident.
“Today’s action is dramatically inconsistent with Israel’s promise as the home of the entire Jewish people, and its commitment to equality and respect for all its citizens,” said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York.
In a separate statement, the Jewish Federations of North America said it was “deeply disturbed” by the detention.
“We have high expectations and hopes for Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. It is meant to be a home for all Jews and a reflection of Jewish values,” the statement read.
The US-based Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis worlwide, also said it was “outraged” by the detention of Haiyun, a former president of RA-Israel, describing the incident as “shocking.”
“Today’s detention of a respected former President of the Israel RA gravely undermines the integrity of government institutions and is contrary to the values of Israel and the Jewish people,” said RA CEO Rabbi Julie Schonfeld…
I’m not surprised by any of this. And I do believe it could have been avoided. But what is missing from all these reactions is any comment at all anyone or group representing Orthodoxy. For obvious reasons, in my view. Although they too might object to the heavy handedness of this - and the terrible optics, I’m sure they agree with their objectives. There is no possible way any Orthodox rabbi worthy of the title would consider violations of Halacha an acceptable practice in Israel – no matter what the intentions of the violators would be.
What about the loss of Diaspora support this might generate? There could be substantial financial consequences if that support is lost. The vast majority of Jews in the Diaspora are in fact not Orthodox. That is an indisputable fact.
It is true that this event will not help matters. But it is really only a matter of time before any of this matters anyway. As is rather well known by now, intermarriage among non Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora is at a 70% right now. I do not see that percentage going down. If anything it will increase. In fact some very prominent Jews actually advocate intermarriage preferring it over in-marriage – seeing that as racist. And creating a ghetto of 2!
There is little if anything that can be done about this trend. Which has been accelerated by a Heterodoxy that either ignored it or accepted it. As did Reform who considers the non Jewish partner in such a marriage if they live their lives Jewishly (whatever that may mean to them). And a Conservative movement that already has some of of their rabbis performing intermarriages.
Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before the great tragedy of losing millions of Jews will happen. I don’t see any way out of this – even as Orthodox outreach intensifies and has become more successful than ever. It is still a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of Jews that will intermarry out of Judaism.
Back to the issue at hand. True, all the screaming and anger could have been avoided. But the handwriting is on the wall. There is no way that Israel should in any way legitimize heterodoxy, because that will not only NOT help our continuity as a people - it will hinder it by creating the same conditions in Israel that exist in America. That should never be allowed to happen.
I know this is an unpopular view among many of my Orthodox friends to my religious left. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.