I've been recruited to speak in a panel discussion this coming Shabbos, on Rabbinic Jurisdiction in Israel. Since I'm the North American on the panel (beside Rav Dovid Stav and Rabbanit Pnina Neuwirth), my responsibility is to talk about how North American, "Modern Orthodox" Jews feel about Israel's Chief Rabbinate.
I think this should be more than a litany of the controversies involving that beleaguered institution. True, issues of Jewish identity [conversion, Russians, Ethiopians] are front and center in our minds. Other issues, like shackle-and-hoist shechitah, heter mechirah, problems facing people navigating the rabbinic bureaucracy and the corruption charges of several years ago are all major fault lines in our relationship with Israel's government-linked rabbinic leadership.
But, to my mind, in order to speak intelligently and appropriately (a modest goal) about these issues and the state of the relationship, we first need to understand why the North American, Modern Orthodox Jew is predisposed to love Israel's Chief Rabbinate. It's that love which makes the relationship so difficult; I believe we would not be half as exercised by our frustrations if we didn't long to embrace the Chief Rabbinate and call it our own.
I see three primary reasons for our affection:
The institution of the Chief Rabbinate reminds us of Rav Kook ודעימיה, religious leaders who promoted a serious, rigorous Torah observance while working hand-in-hand with secular Jews - a vision which mirrors idealized versions of our own communities, and for which we are nostalgic.
In theory, the Chief Rabbinate is a government-associated voice of religion, offering the possibility of a Judaism-guided administration in the State of Israel, while still allowing for the separation of church and state which appeals to North American Jews.
We want structure for our religious organizations, as seen in the creation of the OU and Young Israel synagogue movements. We resist imposed order – something I'll also discuss in the session – but we love order itself. Centralized authority offers that.
Then, we get into our disappointment in the institution, and what we might do about it...