'Chief Rabbinate race looks bad from every possible angle.' Israel's current chief rabbis
Photo: Alex Kolomoiski
Yoaz Hendel

The Manhattan project

Op-ed: Chief Rabbinate race has turned into reality show. Israelis are interested out of malicious joy, Diaspora Jews – out of concern

Yaakov Kermaier is the rabbi of a large and rich community from Manhattan. He arrived in Israel on the eve of the Chief Rabbinate elections to meet politicians; to remind them that Jews overseas must be considered too.


His synagogue is an important stage for those wishing to raise Jewish money. When there are Knesset elections in Israel, Rabbi Kermaier has a waiting list in his synagogue. The politicians from Israel want American-style fear of God. They arrive at the doorstep of the forgotten uncle from overseas to ask for money. If not for the sake of Zionism, then at least for the party primaries.


Now it's Rabbi Kermaier's turn to come here – and collect the debt. He seeks to influence the most important elections, as far as he is concerned, in Israel. to influence us. I want them to know, he says, that we care about what happens with the Chief Rabbinate. We feel that it's walking on the edge of abyss. If there is no change here, the Chief Rabbinate will lose it way. The connection with us will be affected.


Kermaier is a Religious Zionism supporter. When he heard that a rabbi on behalf of Shas called Rabbi Stav "Amalek," he protested. He is an Orthodox rabbi, a senior religious judge at the New York conversions court. His rulings are accepted here, as opposed to other rabbis overseas. His outstanding support for Rabbi Stav carries a certain price, and yet he goes from one minister's bureau to another.


Two parties have been left out of the game: The Likud and Habayit Hayehudi. The Likud is keeping mum, keeping all options open with the haredim. When you don't support anyone, you don't get into a fight with anyone. Habayit Hayehudi, on the other hand, finally managed to agree on an Ashkenazi candidate but got stuck with the Sephardic one. Perhaps they'll announce their decision after the election results are made public. That way they can make a safe bet. Go with the winners.


The candidates send messengers, sign pacts. The Rabbinate race is the best school for the political novice.


Between the politicians and the meetings with rabbis, Rabbi Kermaier meets sinners like me too. Those without the fear of rabbis on their heads. We had lunch together, at a Jerusalem café with a Chief Rabbinate kashrut certificate. When the salad arrived, he spoke about the injustices of the Rabbinate and the rabbis, of the differences between here and there.


"What do you think?" he asks. "Maybe I'll write a firm op-ed in the Israeli press, affect the electing body before they vote?"


I doubt your opinion will make any difference to the Israelis, I responded, careful not to disappoint him too much. Most of them are not fond of the Chief Rabbinate even without advice from the outside. This race looks bad from every possible angle. Another Jewish rabbi saying how problematic the religious establishment is will not change anything. We continued our meal, Rabbi Kermaier with his slew of ideas and me with the Israeli approach, which has despaired of anyone with a title in his mouth and a beard under his mustache.


After years in which the chief rabbis have been met with a national yawn, the Chief Rabbinate race has turned into a popular reality show. The Israelis are interested out of malicious joy, the Diaspora Jews - out of concern. While the Jewish world sends athletes to the Maccabiah, the world of rabbis sends observers to the race for the robe. The two competitions, by the way, are being given artificial respiration, one for the sake of nostalgia and the other because no one dares stop and separate the religious systems from the State.



פרסום ראשון: 07.23.13, 20:05
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