First: Please watch this new video from Rabbi Yakov Horowitz on protecting children from molestation.
After both of of last week's posts on Modern Orthodoxy outside of Israel and the Chief Rabbinate [Part I, Part II], I received an email from a new oleh asking me for leads on information about the Chief Rabbinate. In sending a few links, I noticed something that made me re-think the presentation I delivered this past Shabbos.
Specifically, it was this line from the website of the Chief Rabbinate: הרבנות הראשית משמשת לגבי הגולה לא רק כסמכות רוחנית בשאלות הלכתיות, אלא מהווה גם מרכז מידע לכל הקהילות היהודיות ולכל הגופים הנותנים כשרות בעולם. In translation: The Chief Rabbinate serves the Diaspora not only as an authority for halachic questions, but also as a central resource for information for all Jewish communities and all kosher-supervising agencies around the globe.
Would your North American community do that? Would your community, having a debate about tzedakah priorities, or kashrut policy, or the mechitzah, or interdenominational activity, send the shailah to Israel's Chief Rabbinate? I know Israelis who think that we should do this. But would we?
I hate to speak of divides between Jews inside and outside of Israel, since I believe all of us should be united and in Israel. But the truth is that the communities outside of Israel would not consult Israel's Chief Rabbinate on these matters.
I'd suggest a practical reason and a philosophical reason why we wouldn't:
Simple: The alienation that comes when we disagree with their decisions, and when we feel delegitimized over issues like conversion.
[Yes, I know this is going to get me into trouble with some fellow bloggers. It got me in trouble when I presented it today, too, although I believe that was mostly a matter of language.]
The idea that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel will dictate halachah for chutz la'aretz stems from a breed of Zionism that is very Rav Kook, very Ramban, very כל הדר בחוץ לארץ כאילו אין לו אלו-ה (the gemara's statement, end of Ketuvot, that one who lives outside of Israel is as though he has no link to Gd). In this view, which I must admit I find compelling spiritually and emotionally if not intellectually, the future of the Jews lies in Israel, Israel is the place to be a true Jew, chutznikim are simply Israelis who haven't found their passports yet, and all that is outside of Israel is only a satellite, a space station, destined to descend from orbit and either burn up or land in Israel.
But North American Modern Orthodoxy embraces a political tradition which owes a great deal to the history of local rabbinic authority in Judaism, and to the founding principles of American independence, the democracy rather than the Republic. This community demands that its authorities and representatives be of its own kind, and be familiar with its unique situation. Israel's primacy does not entirely eliminate the significance of Jewish life elsewhere, and the significance of the unique demands with which Diaspora Jewry lives.
I'm not sure there is a solution for the philosophical problem of the role of the Diaspora; any disagreement will lead to trouble when it is decreed that Israel should rule on issues affecting Diasporites. But at least for the practical problem, and to avoid the disagreements that trigger the philosophical objections, one solution may be to look for ways to make sure the selection process and decision-making process are inclusive and embracing.