Nepotism and Cronyism: It's All in the Family

There were once, and now could have been, Chief Rabbis from whom we would derive vision, ethical example and spiritual Zionism.

Rabbi Yehudah Brown

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The recent political sham of an election for the two chief rabbis, finally shattered the belief of Israelis that the Chief Rabbinate could be the democratic, transparent, and accountable institution that it must be.

Having recently made aliyah from downunder, I arrived in Israel at the age of 51 with rose tinted glasses and a dream. When you wait all your life to return to your spiritual homeland and then you finally make that herculean leap of faith, heading north to the Land of Milk and Honey, you step off the El Al jet hoping – no believing – that you have arrived in nirvana.

I convinced myself that the State of Israel is a place of spirituality and that the social, political, and the religious environment was beyond the petty that we experienced in the diaspora. After all, we are all Jews, traveling together in the same direction. Call me a naive simpleton, but allow me to share this with you – while the dream continued it was the best ever!

And then, last month - the elections for the chief rabbis.

A few weeks after arriving in Maale Adumim one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the police arrested the sitting Ashkenazici chief rabbi. It was not the first time that there have been scandals in the rabbinate but now… how … why?

I was in denial - and then I became angry. First, with the chief and then myself.  The chief - for he had let me down, if the allegations were true. I had met him, several times in Australia in my role in the local community. I had even hosted him in my shule in Melbourne. And then, I was angry with myself because I had fooled myself into believing that a chief rabbi was more than a human being. But, then again why shouldn’t he stand out from the mob.

I confess that I adore the wisdom of Rabbi Avraham Yizchak haKohen Kook zts"l, Israel's first Chief Rabbi and admire the statesmanship of Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog zts"l. I also admire the courage of Rabbi Sholomo Goren zts"l who stood his ground against criticism from extremist religious detractors.

In more recent times, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zts"l and Rabbi Avraham Shapira zts"l were chief rabbis who made decisions and worked without giving in to political and extremist pressure.

It has been nearly two weeks since the election (if you can call it that) or horse trading that resulted in the sons of two former, still active chief rabbis being elected– nay handed – the keys to the Chief Rabbinate - offices of the powerful financial empire that is the chief rabbinate in their eyes, run by devoted minions.

There has been zero transparency in the Chief Rabbinate, whose independence is absolute. Moreover there is no accountability, to my knowledge, either to the Knesset or to the taxpayers who shoulder the large financial burden of keeping it afloat.

Question those who stand for hours before Rabbinate officials in the religious courts, Batei Din, waiting for documentation and clarity on their status. I know of women and men who have moved from Judaism because of their dealings with the system. All I hear from my friends and acquaintances in Israel and around the globe is that the Chief Rabbinate has become a desecration, a Chillul Hashem R”L (R"L stands for unfortunately, ed.)

I can list three major blunders, and scandals, that have resulted in the name of one of the newly elected chief rabbis splashed over the newspapers and internet, - and all this within the last ten days.

There are those, among them respected politicians and social commentators, that are calling for the demolition of the Chief Rabbinate. I am not one of those that want to see the end of this institution. I desperately want and pray for a Chief Rabbi that I can look up to for inspiration. As an Israeli citizen I call on the Knesset to fix it because it is broken.

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu, find a way to allow the Children of Israel to have faith in our central spiritual leadership once again.

Perhaps, I am asleep again, and I am dreaming but … I do see another Rabbi Kook or a Rabbi Shlomo Goren again in our lifetimes – I do. (I have to)

Dare to dream with me just for a while….