Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Israeli Rabbinate – Kiruv or Shoving Religion Down People’s Throat?

Guest Post by Rabbi Micha Berger

There are not too many people who are younger than I - that I look up to. One of those people is Rabbi Micha Berger. I look up to him in many respects: His intelligence, his knowledge, his value system, and his dedication to his beliefs and his people. He has a clear sense of right and wrong. He is a man of action who not only speaks… but does! His life story to date testifies to that.

Rabbi Berger studied at Yeshiva University and was strongly influenced by his Rebbe there – Rav Dovid Lifshitz.

He the owner and operator of the AishDas Society which hosts two e-mail lists: Avodah which discusses Halacha and Hashkafa - and Areivim which is a more open forum discussing various issues and events of the day. I have been a member since the very beginning - when Rabbi
Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer founded its predecessor list: ‘Beis Teffilah’. Rabbi Bechhofer later folded that into R’ Micha’s list which evolved into the current above mentioned format. The high level of discussion that takes place on those lists has attracted some of the brightest minds in all of Orthodoxy and reflects the perspectives of many different Hashkafos. I am proud to be a part of it.

R’ Micha (if I may call him that) also maintains a blog,
Aspaqlairia, dedicated primarily to his love of - and desire to spread Musar. That is something most of us do not get enough of.

I admire him and value his opinion greatly on almost any subject - even when we sometimes disagree. There is so much more that can be said about this man but I do not want to embarrass him any more than I already have by saying more than Miktsas Shvacho B’Fonov (partial praise to his face).

R’ Micha has granted me the right to post his words in the form or a Guest Post. The subject is the Israeli Rabbinate (Rabbanut). Most people who read this blog know that I have issues with the way it is presently constructed and behaves. I believe that R’ Micah hits the nail on the head on this subject – as he often does with every subject he comments upon.

What follows is his take on what would be the ideal Rabbanut rather than what it is now – less than ideal. Obvioulsy I fully agree.

To my mind, the ideal Rabbanut would be sufficiently dati leumi to support the gov't for which they work and build its institutions. There is a certain "despite the employer" inherent in a chareidi rabbanut harashit which makes the position less constructive than it could be.

The Rabbanut should be more busy with kiruv to the majority of their constituents than promoting laws to make observance easier. Yes, it's far far nicer to have a traffic-less Shabbos, and when the rabbanut makes chumeros in kashrus (or a lack of kulos, depending on your poseiq's ruling on each din) easier, it makes our lives simpler.

But legislating Shabbos business closings doesn't actually get more people out of the soccer stadiums and into the shuls. In fact, history shows quite the reverse -- the more Shabbos is imposed on the aino-dati in the public sphere, the more he pushes to enjoy himself in whatever ways remain. More people drive to the beach or the TA restaurant on their "Shabbat" than stay home with the family and perhaps have qiddush before watching the game on TV.

In short, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (whom many consider the father of religious Zionism) succeeded quite well, bringing Judaism to the Communist qibbutznik as well as holding the respect of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. That's what the rabbanut should have continued being, obviously given the relative limitations of anyone trying to stand in Rav Kook’s huge shadow. Of course, Rav Sonnenfeld went on that trip to the qibbutzim as well -- my second suggestion doesn't have to be particular to the Dati Leumi world.

Still, I think that psychologically, the two are linked. Once one sees the medinah as an us-vs-them adversary - it becomes much harder to see the "them" as people to embrace and reach out to. Instead, it becomes a battle; let's *win* the right to *make them* close their stores.

Rather than increasing their feel for Yahadus and thus their observance, more ainum datiim become anti-datiim. Because when in a battle, both sides dig their trenches. It is easier for someone who believes there ought to be a state that is employing him than someone who tries to emulate Rav Sonnenfeld to stay non-adversarial in his job.