יום ראשון 26 מאי 2013
Rabbi Gilad Kariv – Ha’aretz Opinion, May 22, 2013
Minister Naftali Bennett claims that the reform in religious services is three times more profound than the revolution needed in Israel’s seaports. This claim can lead to only one of two conclusions: Either Bennett has not yet come to terms with the difference between an election campaign and the day after the polls close, or – more disturbingly still – the Minister of Religious Affairs genuinely believes that the measures he has announced will lead to meaningful change.
For over 60 years, Orthodox religious services have enjoyed a monopoly in Israel. The result has been a crisis of trust between the Israeli public and the officials and institutions of the rabbinate. One way to gauge this crisis is by comparing global opinion polls on the subject of public corruption that are conducted annually in countries around the world. In most countries, religious authorities are perceived as the least corrupt public bodies. In Israel, the opposite is the case. It is absurd to imagine that this crisis can be resolved simply by enabling citizens to register for marriage with any religious council in the country, or by reducing the number of religious local councils from 133 to 80.
Bennett’s changes are merely a rehashing of laws and steps that have been proposed many times in the past. They do nothing to lessen the stranglehold held by the current rabbinical establishment. What difference does it make to encourage competition between different religious councils in a situation where the Orthodox rabbinate appoints all the marriage registrars? Bennett’s reform does nothing to curtail the power of the rabbinical establishment, and accordingly offers nothing new to the public, and particularly to the main victims of the Orthodox monopoly: Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who cannot get married in their own country; thousands of women who cannot secure a divorce; immigrants forced to bury their dead in remote locations; restaurant owners in need of Kashrut certificates; and hundreds of thousands of Israelis who wish to receive liberal Jewish religious services. If Bennett’s declarations were a reflection of his personal style, that would be one thing. But the evidence suggests that they reflect an inability on his part, and on the part of his partners in the Religious Zionist movement, to face Israeli reality.
Just before Shavuot, the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women held a discussion on the conversion crisis. The speakers in the discussion, almost all of whom wore the knitted skullcaps of Religious Zionist circles, focused on relatively minor administrative procedures. Their suggestions related to just a few hundred converts. The voices of tens of thousands of immigrants who do not even begin the conversion process, due to the demand to maintain an Orthodox lifestyle, were barely heard. This is just one example of the splendid isolation in which Minister Bennett and his partners operate. They long to put the Religious Zionist movement back at the head of Israeli society, but they fail to notice that the head has changed.
According to a survey on Jewish identity commissioned by the Avi Chai Foundation, 60 percent of Israelis support civil marriage, and over 40 percent state that they would personally like to choose this option. Similarly, 60 percent support the recognition of the non-Orthodox streams, and no less than 40 percent recognize the Jewish status of a person who has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.
According to a 2010 survey of the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately two-thirds of Israelis support a separation between religion and state. With these figures in mind, Minister Bennett may be telling the truth when he claims to look at all of Israeli society… but the Israeli society he looks at is one that existed here 30 years ago.
The secular and liberal public can continue, if it wishes, to show deference toward those who demand – sweetly and politely – to maintain their role as the patrons of Judaism. This approach is shown, for example, when secular circles support one or other of the candidates for the position of chief rabbi, while ignoring the fact that all the candidates are committed to protecting the rabbinate’s centralized monopoly. The secular and liberal public can realize that dialogue with the new style of Religious Zionism must be based on an independent position that demands the abolition of the Orthodox monopoly, alongside a wiliness to take responsibility and play an equal role in shaping Jewish identity in Israel.
As long as important parties, public bodies and individuals continue to convey the expectation that the rabbinical establishment itself will correct the depressing situation in which we find ourselves, the leaders of this establishment will continue to delude themselves that the public supports its monopoly.
The role of the public representatives of secular and liberal Israelis is not to applaud minor gestures made by Religious Zionism. These representatives should instead deplore the monopoly Religious Zionism demands for its rabbis and halt its attempts to extend its power – such as the initiative to establish a “Jewish Identity Authority” within the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Only through such a position, and through the dialogue it can enable, will it be possible to begin to talk about a revolution and real change.
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