Can religious pluralism and an official rabbinate coexist in israel: a moment symposium.


In 1947, future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, hoping to shore up support for the State of Israel, wrote a letter to the head of the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party promising that in the future Jewish state, Saturday would be a day of rest, kashrut would be maintained in all government kitchens, a religious group could oversee their own education and family law issues--divorce, marriage and burial would stay in the hands of the religious courts. This became known as

RUTH CALDERON There is an official rabbinate, and there is religious pluralism in Israel. The question is how do we make all the ways of Jewish living flourish without hurting or stopping any one of them and still have the official rabbinate? Now there are two rabbis and each of them speaks for only one kind of community. It just is not working. Most of the Jews in the world and in Israel don't have a voice.

I don't want a culture war between the pluralistic and the Orthodox. Orthodoxy adds a lot to our cultural scene. I wouldn't like to live in an Israel that didn't have haredi Jews. But just as much as their Jewish needs deserve to be met, so do mine. In Israel you have many secular or unaffiliated Jews who still are connected and for whom Judaism is a very big part of their lives, but the North American denominations don't fit them. The Jewish world is moving toward a post-denominational era, and I think that is a good thing. Let each community choose the right way for them to be Jewish, give them as many services as possible without giving names and labels. Let communities choose their own rabbis--build the rabbinate from the bottom up. be an Orthodox rabbinate, but next to it there would be rabbis who are progressive in different ways.

Ruth Calderon is a member of Knesset from the Yesh Atid Party and is the founder of two secular yeshivas.


An official rabbinate cannot itself be pluralistic, for the very simple reason that the differences among the so-called streams of Judaism are so wide that they can't be encompassed in one body. It's like saying, can the Pope also be the head of the various Protestant congregations around the world?

From its conception, it was never thought that the Israeli chief rabbinate would be anything other than an Orthodox body. The impetus for a chief rabbinate doesn't come primarily from the so-called haredi community, which I consider myself a member of, but from the national religious Zionist community. Ben-Gurion himself saw Jewish identity as the glue that would hold together people coming from countries around the world. If Judaism is a binding glue, there have to be some minimal basic standards for who is a Jew. The chief rabbinate provides a common denominator, certain acknowledged rules so that Jews can marry one another, confident in the Jewish identity of their spouse, functioning as that type of societal glue. Once you open marriage--and certainly conver-sion--processes to multiple interpretations, then Judaism ceases to be a binding glue for the larger Israeli society.

Once the state went to such efforts to bring in everyone, including close to 500,000 former residents of the old Soviet Union who had a drop of Jewish blood but who were not halachically Jewish, it became inevitable that we would have civil marriage in Israel. Obviously, a modern democratic state cannot be in a situation where a number of people are incapable of marrying in any fashion. But at the same time, there's no sense in pretending and distorting what it means to be Jewish. It is in some sense a miracle any time a person takes on the full burdens, responsibilities and joy of being Jewish. But the truth is that most Russian immigrants have found that they have no real need to convert to feel integrated into Israeli society.

There are worse things than a separation of state and religion. Rather than religion becoming falsified by its conjunction with the state and serving the state's needs, it would be better to separate the two. In other words, if the chief rabbinate were to become an instrument of falsification of Judaism--for example through state pressure to approve conversions--it would be better to sever the relationship.

Jonathan Rosenblum 's columns appear in the magathie Nlishpacha and numerous other haredi publications as well as in the main-streambaeli press.


I think we need to just get rid of the rabbinate. We don't need it. What does it do? It's out there screaming and yelling about things like who can put up a kosher sign in their restaurant and what shape potato or cheese burekas have to be. It's completely irrelevant. We have 50,000 refugees in Israel whom we're treating badly. There are hundreds of thousands of orphans at risk in the world, and this is what our rabbinate is yelling about? It's absurd.

The rabbinate is like putting a roof over our heads instead of the sky. We can all deal directly with God within our Jewish communities. Trying to encapsulate Judaism into a single form is idolatrous, because the assumption is that there are people who know what God wants of us without a shadow of a doubt. If you can know what God wants without a shadow of a doubt, then God is small enough to fit in your mind, and that's no different from holding God in your hand. There's no purpose for the rabbinate; in fact it's detrimental. Anyone who wants to take political power as a spiritual religious guide is inherently problematic in my mind. They want to use religion as their power. It's counterproductive and counterintuitive.

Susan Silverman is a rabbi, an activist and a member of Women of the Wall.


Religious pluralism and an official rabbinate can coexist as long as there isn't one rabbinate. Since the Jewish people don't agree about Judaism, the notion of one rabbinate for all Jews ranges between insane and nonsensical and consequently counter to religious pluralism. Five or six chief rabbinates sounds just about right.

The biggest hindrance to moving toward pluralism is secular Israelis, not the ultra-Orthodox. The ultra-Orthodox don't want it, I understand. The fact that secular Israelis have been willing to be complicit with an institution that is irrelevant and doesn't speak to them is the profound shortcoming of religious life in Israel. As long as secular Israelis, who make up about 45 to 50 percent of Israeli society, allow this to be perpetuated, it will be perpetuated. There isn't a large enough Conservative, Reform, or Liberal Judaism to serve as a counterbalance to the close to 50 percent who are either ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox or Masorti [Traditional]. You don't need a majority; but you need a group of people who get up and say, "I've had enough. I'm not taking it anymore. I want a Jewish wedding."

Secular Israelis have...

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