Thursday, July 19, 2007

Politics hurts religion

Jerusalem Post:
The Israeli rabbinate jealously guards its sole right to administer marriage and divorce for Israelis, so that even Orthodox rabbis who come from overseas to perform a marriage must stand beside - and pay - a representative of the rabbinate to gain official sanction for the wedding. It also holds the keys to kashrut certification and burial for all Jewish Israelis.

Yet this rabbinate, with its monopoly on life cycle events, expresses next-to-no view and offers little guidance on such deeply Jewish issues as social justice, the minimum wage, redeeming a captive soldier, the ethics of war, individual spirituality and much more besides. Where it isn't trying to enforce its jurisdiction as an institution, the rabbinate is almost always, tragically, silent. Indeed, the only encounter most Israelis have with Judaism is with a disinterested rabbinate clerk paid by taxpayers to whom he does not see himself accountable.

It would be better, both for Jewish unity and for the advancement of Judaism in Israel, if the Orthodox gave up their official monopoly over religion in Israel. Even better, there should be no official rabbinate to monopolize. Far from compromising the Jewishness of the state, eliminating the rabbinate would enhance it, since rabbis from three streams would be free to serve their own communities in Israel as they do in Diaspora.

This editorial recommends an American-style separation of synagogue and state. There may be alternatives more suitable to Israeli conditions, especially in terms of state financial support for a broad range of religious institutions (which, at least until recently, seemed to be precluded by America's first amendment (non-) establishment clause. But the editorial rejects that, for an interesting reason:
The mixture of religion and politics has been harmful to Judaism here. For the sake of Jewish unity and the advancement of a religious agenda, the link should be severed.

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