Time to rid Israel of the Chief Rabbinate

Chief Rabbi Yosef: Science, math are nonsense

Every week we receive reminders that the Chief Rabbinate's institution poses a danger to the State of Israel. This time it is the Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the son of the late Chief Rabbi and Shas leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, source: WikipediaRabbi Yitzhak Yosef, source: Wikipedia

In a public lecture this week, Rabbi Yosef said with pride and emphasis:

“There is nothing like the holy Torah, the Torah is above everything. If a pupil is asked where do you want to go, a yeshiva high school [where religious studies are taught together with the core curriculum] or a holy yeshiva, there is no doubt, a holy yeshiva, there is no doubt. There they learn Torah without secular subjects, without the core curriculum, without all this nonsense, they sit and learn... I myself, did I learn the core curriculum? Did I finish school? ... did I miss anything? It’s nonsense, the most important thing is our holy Torah.”

These pronouncements largely explain the embarrassingly low achievements of the boys studying in the fully state funded Shas party's large school network in the fields of science, English, and reading comprehension [unlike girls, which Rabbi Yosef and his partners in the ultra-Orthodox sector do not aspire to teach in yeshivas, but rather designate for work, childbirth, childcare and housekeeping]. To achieve these results the education system evades the law, and goes against its commitment to teach 100% core curricular studies as a condition of receiving funding from the State.

The close link between the rabbis of the Yosef family and its senior rabbinical appointments and the Shas party is known to all, but this does not bother the secular parties that close their eyes, ears, and nose in the face of the improper melding together of religion, State sanctioned religious coercion, and politics. Currently, simultaneous with the tenure of Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef as Chief Rabbi at the demand of the Shas Party, which was in the coalition at the time of his appointment, his brother Rabbi David Yosef is serving as a member of the Council of Torah Sages of Shas. Both of them promoted the Shas party during recent election campaigns. [The chief rabbi and the Shas party did not care in the least that this is forbidden by law and constitutes a criminal offense. They rely on the fact that no one in the law enforcement system would dare to stand against them.]

The Shas party’s preferred candidate for Chief Rabbi of Israel at the time was another brother, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, who served as rabbi of the city of Holon, but a "accident" occurred, and he was suspected [and later convicted] of a serious criminal offense and was forced to resign from his post as Chief City Rabbi. He was convicted of exploiting his position to force food businesses to use meat approved by the kashrut licensing authority belonging to his family, Badatz Beit Yosef, and specifically forbidding them from using products and produce approved by competing authorities.

The prosecution settled for a symbolic sentence of suspended jail time, undoubtedly due to political pressures and his willingness to resign from his position as Chief Rabbi of Holon. Still, that does not stop him from continuing to speak at public events in and out of the city, for he bears the title of ‘City Rabbi. He even participates at events with the mayor, who well knows the damage he caused and all about his shameful resignation. This is probably still the way of politics.

Already a year ago, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef came out against city rabbis who recommend yeshiva high schools, calling them “chalabala” (loosey-goosey). Even then he called “education” and “matriculation exams” “nonsense”; but this did not bother the Minister of Education, the Prime Minister and their other Shas partners in the coalition. Unfortunately, it didn’t bother the opposition either, which did not want [And, even today, with most of its members now sitting in the coalition, still does not want] to upset the ultra-Orthodox parties, even at the cost of risking the future of the State of Israel: “If there is a good city rabbi, a true Torah scholar, then he also has a good [religious] approach. Folks come and ask him: ‘Honorable Rabbi, where should we send our child to study, at a high school yeshiva or in a “holy yeshiva”?’ If the rabbi is good, [he’ll say] a “holy yeshiva”, for sure. But if the rabbi is loosey-goosey, he would send him to a high school yeshiva to receive a [secular] education; he will take the matriculation exams; he will do nonsense. A lot depends on the rabbi.” Next to him sat the Minister of Religious Affairs, also an appointment of the Shas party, and the message was clear: One should only appoint chief rabbis who believe that secular education is nonsense and that the only desirable Jewish ideal worthy of a Jewish state is studying "in holy yeshivas".

The current coalition agreements include a clause regarding the promotion of core curricular studies "for all Israeli students" [As if there is another sector other than the ultra-Orthodox sector where the problem exists so severely].

Readers of Hiddush’s publications and participants in Hiddush’s webinars are familiar with the research of internationally renowned economist Prof. Dan Ben David, who analyzed the existential danger lurking for Israel’s economy, if the State does not enforce core curricular studies in ultra-Orthodox schools and if the ultra-Orthodox sector does not enter the labor market in accordance with its share of the population. This position is shared by other senior economists such as Prof. Stanley Fischer, the former Governor of the Bank of Israel and the former Deputy Governor of the US Federal Reserve, researchers in the Chief Economist Division of the Ministry of Finance, and many others, However, the government, which was dependent on the good will of the ultra-Orthodox parties, did not dare to do anything meaningful in this regard, beyond talking, to actually advance this.

The current coalition agreements include a clause regarding the promotion of core curricular studies "for all Israeli students" [As if there is another sector other than the ultra-Orthodox sector where the problem exists so severely], but at this stage, it is not at all clear how determined the government will be to face this challenge. Only the coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu mentions the possibility of "negative incentives", which would mean cutting State funding for ultra-Orthodox institutions that do not teach their male students core curricular subjects, which is the majority of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox education system for boys [including even those who by law and by explicit obligations must teach a full core curriculum, but this is amounts to a [according to Israeli slang] "Israbluff". 

The current coalition, especially the Zionist Orthodox Yamina party, is aware of the problematic nature of ultra-Orthodox control of the rabbinical establishment, and its solution, as reflected in the coalition agreements, is to stack the electoral body in a way that will ensure the election of a Zionist Chief Rabbi. But it is important to say that this is not the right or appropriate solution for the Jewish-democratic state of Israel. In a Jewish democratic state, there is no place for a chief rabbi at all, neither ultra-Orthodox nor Zionist. In a Jewish democratic state, rabbis should be given great respect, but there must be recognition that their authority cannot be drawn from secular law and political decisions, but rather from the voluntary will of those who follow them. No rabbi should receive coercive authority on behalf of the State, and no religious group, even one that is Zionist, should receive the exclusive stamp of State approval.

It should be remembered that the Zionist candidate of Yamina [in a previous round] for the office of Chief Rabbi went public against the Supreme Court and its ruling on "who is a Jew" and described Reform conversions as "fictitious", also expressing strong opposition to the possibility of civil marriage in Israel, not to mention the possibility that non-Orthodox rabbis would legally officiate wedding ceremonies in Israel. This candidate was Rabbi David Stav, the head of "Tzohar Rabbis", and his name is also being mentioned now as a possible candidate. His Tzohar organization is being mentioned as a preferred expression of for forging the path for Israel’s Jewish identity, which is a sad and dangerous mistake!

Freedom of religion and freedom from religion cannot be reconciled with the institution of a state "Chief Rabbi", given the reality of a pluralistic Judaism in Israel and around the world. Jewish pluralism is a blessing, not a curse, and the appointment of a Chief Rabbi, even if he is a Zionist who smiles and is very hospitalitable, is inconsistent with the values of the Declaration of Independence, including freedom of religion and conscience and equality without distinction of religion, race and sex – no less and no more.

This is what Hiddush aspires to realize via its activities and those of its affiliated organization of rabbis and cantors for freedom of religion and equality in Israel. And this is one of the fundamental principles of the Vision Statement for a Jewish and democratic state, which we seek to promote, with the support of all shades of the religious and political spectrums, from modern Orthodoxy to secularism, and from political right to left.

The State of Israel must grant its citizens the right to choose their own religious leadership so that they are not compelled to adhere to a State-sponsored religious establishment. The State should not grant governmental authority to “Chief Rabbis”—whether on the national or local levels. Rather, each Jewish community must be free to employ the rabbis of its choice. The State must not be an official sponsor of any one particular religious movement, but must respect freedom and equal opportunity and responsibility for all its citizens.

If you share our vision - sign the Vision Statement and share it with your colleagues and friends. 

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