They chose a rabbi from the Tzohar organization. A nice person, a really nice rabbi. He smiled a lot, too. He served in the army. He knows how things are. He promised that he would get there on time, and he did. He didn’t ask for money and he didn’t take any. Everything went smoothly until Dvir, the groom (not his real name, as is the case with the other people mentioned in this article) introduced the rabbi to the two witnesses, the people he had chosen to sign the ketubah. Dvir always knew that when he would get married, he would ask Gur, his army commander, to be his witness. Gur had saved his life. They had been ambushed by Fatah terrorists. They opened fire on them and Dvir was shot in the stomach several times. Gur dragged him to safety under a rock and then returned fire. After the terrorists had been eliminated, he went back to Dvir. He made sure the wounded soldiers were properly removed from the scene of the attack and stayed with Dvir throughout his convalescence. Gur received a military citation for his part in this incident.
The rabbi from Tzohar was brimming with love for all the Jewish people. He smiled at everyone around him. To the groom, the bride, the parents, but when Dvir, so obviously happy and excited, introduced Gur to the Tzohar rabbi, he suddenly stopped smiling. He glanced at Gur’s bare head, and shook his head from side to side. It’s impossible, said the rabbi who exuded so much love of Israel. I’m sorry. Gur is a wonderful person, but he can’t be a witness. He isn’t a Sabbath observer. Gur did not want to upset the groom, so he left the group gathered for the signing of the ketubah, with a smile of acceptance, a male shrug of the shoulder ("no problem, I understand, sure!”). I met him a few minutes after this incident. He was incensed, fuming. The Jew in him was insulted to the depths of his soul. He was burning with rage. He was stunned. I’m not Jewish enough, you understand such a thing? For this rabbi, I’m not kosher enough. I’m unfit!
How absurd. Gur could have been a tax evader, an abusive employer, or even a rapist, but the rabbi didn’t care about any of that. He wouldn’t have bothered to ask about his character. A good Jew, one who is fit to be a witness, can only be someone who observes the Sabbath (in the Orthodox manner). A secular Jew, no matter if he is one of the righteous few, a talmid chacham, or a bona fide Jewish hero, is unfit. Women, by the way, even if they are Sabbath observers, are considered unfit to be witnesses from the outset, simply because they are women. This is the halacha, Tzohar rabbis will tell you, putting their hands together, as if apologizing, and sighing deeply as if denoting “we share in your distress,” at the same time ignoring all the great halachic experts of the pre-Orthodox era, who were able to find creative solutions for any problem they were confronted with.
In the midst of the mass campaign on behalf of the Tzohar rabbis and their nice, really nice candidate for the position of Chief Rabbi, which is being generously supported and brilliantly branded, we need to stop for a moment and make a straightforward declaration: the truth is that Tzohar rabbis are good people who can speak the secular lingo fluently; however, they are miles away from embodying the solution for the problematic relationship between the state and religion in Israel.
The proposed action (electing a Tzohar rabbi to the chief rabbinate) is almost tantamount to fraud. Their “nice-guyism” will not solve the problem of hundreds of thousands of Jews who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union but cannot marry in the country in which they are living, nor that of a Cohen who wishes to marry a divorced woman, and certainly not same-sex couples who want to marry.
Some on these problems could be solved by turning to a Reform or a Masorti rabbi, while others may require not having a rabbi at all. In any case, as long as there is an Orthodox monopoly many Jews simply cannot get married in Israel. Tzohar rabbis are tied, by their own volition, to Orthodox halachic interpretations. If they take control of the Chief Rabbinate, it will still leave many people in purgatory even if it does not feel like hell.
The claim that recognizing non-Orthodox marriages will split the nation is false. Jews were getting married and divorced long before the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate, without too much difficulty. It is the Orthodox monopoly that is threatening the unity of the Jewish people. It is preventing Jews from marrying according to the “law of Moses and Israel." The Orthodox monopoly is immoral even when it is dipped in the rhetoric of love for the Jewish people. Coercion is coercion even when it is wrapped in cellophane and sweet talk. Freedom of choice in marriage will make the State of Israel a more Jewish place. Circumcision is undeniable proof of this: Over 95% of Jews in Israel circumcise their sons. Why? Because no one forces them to do it.
Yizhar Hess is the Director of the Masorti Movement