Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fighting over the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem

A Guest Post by Rafi G

The competition for the position of Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem has gotten very confusing. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has come out, as he promised he would during his mayoral campaign, in favor of the candidate of the Dati Leumi, Rav Aryeh Stern.

The committee has gotten drawn down into fights that might end up in the court system, with the Haredi shuls taking a majority of the positions in the voting body. The fight right now causing the stalemate seems to be, if I understand it correctly, that some of those shuls are not in haredi neighborhoods, but are in secular or DL neighborhoods, though the specific representative shul is controlled by haredim. The haredim say the shul is haredi, so our percentage goes up, and the DL say the vote has to be representative of the people and neighborhoods, and the neighborhood is not haredi, so those representatives need to be ours.

In a war of words, Rav Stern has said that the position needs to be held by a Dati Leumi rav. Rav Stern said in a radio interview, "The position belongs to us, and not to the haredim... there is a surplus of candidates and of fighting among the haredim. By us, we are united, and therefore I will win. Barkat will not allow himself to lose."

Former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Yehoshua Polk has responded to Rav Stern's claim. Polk said, "In my eyes Rav Stern is a very honorable man, but his claim that anyway we don't rely on the Rabbanut is not a relevant claim. In the time of Rav Kolitz zt"l and Rav Zolty zt"l who were the city Chief Rabbis, the kipa sruga people didn't rely on them and went to ask their questions to Rav Shapira zt"l. Each person has his own rabbi, and that does not change the fact that each sector wants that the chief rabbi should be form his group.

It is true that the haredim have Badatzes and other poskim, but in the State of Israel everything, at the end of the day, must go through the Rabbanut - the marriages, the kashrut.. we are not looking for a candidate with a knitted kipa or a black kipa, but what must establish worthiness is greatness in Torah.

Nowadays, as we control the Religious Council, everybody uses the mikvas as they meet the most mehudar criteria. Even Rav Elyashiv recommends using them. Jerusalem is the capital city, and its kashrut gives a solution to a very large and diverse community. Today, the haredi public benefits from the kashrut services in hotels and restaurants. The Dati Leumi community also relies on the kashrut system. Nobody is hurt by it and everybody gains. So why change it.

Somebody who is lenient has no problem relying on somebody more stringent, but the opposite is not true. If you bring into Jerusalem a system of kashrut that is more lenient, the haredi community cannot rely on it. Better a rav who can provide the service for everyone.

Nowadays, thousands of young couples register for marriage in Jerusalem. There is a standard in place that is more stringent. Whoever, anywhere in Israel, is presented with a certificate from Jerusalem will check no further, because they know that the system is administered by haredim who are very stringent. Nobody denies it - Rav Stern is a great talmid chacham, but a haredi rav will provide greater coverage [to more people]. Don't forget, the haredi community in Jerusalem is 3 times as large as the Dati Leumi community."

Polk's argument is really backwards considering the subject of the argument. They are arguing over the Rabbanut - the Rabbanut was designed to be more lenient, not to be more stringent. The Rabbanut is meant to provide the services for people who would otherwise not keep kashrut or kosher marriage. It is meant to make it easier for them and therefore make them more willing to keep at least certain, less stringent, standards.

The argument that they make everything more stringent seems backwards to me, as they end up helping the people who don't need the help, and make it more difficult for the originally targetted audience to continue relying on them. As the Rabbanut's more stringent (under haredi control) requirements keep getting more stringent, less and less secular will find the ease and convenience in staying kosher, or in registering marriages, and will instead open restaurants with no supervision and not bother registering their marriages.

Also, he claims that haredim are benefiting from the Rabbanut services, because right now it is under haredi control. I don't know what he is referring to. I have never heard of haredim eating in Rabbanut certified restaurants (unless it is Rabbanut Mehadrin and even then not the majority of haredim), those that do are a very small minority, and the haredim all register their marriages through the Badatz and not through the Rabbanut.

I am not saying the Chief Rabbi should not be a haredi rabbi for these reasons. I am just saying Polk's argument seems to me to be backwards and objectively might strengthen the Dati Leumi position. Nobody involved is objective though, so it is completely meaningless.

NOTE: I do not know Rav Stern, and I do not even know who the haredi candidate is (I heard Rav Grossman' s name mentioned in the past as a possible candidate among others, but I do not know who the final candidates are), and I have no current favorite or preference. Just like there is probably a very qualified Dati Leumi rabbi for the position, there is probably a very qualified Haredi rabbi for the position. This post is only commenting on the specific argument and quotes quoted above.

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