The Rabbinate shouldn’t be dissolved, but its reforms need to continue. Its reason for existence can’t revolve around petty policymaking but long-term strategic planning for the global Jewish community’s religious and spiritual needs.
Form & Function
We get hung up on how to reform the Rabbinate’s centralized structure or circumvent its (ridiculously) strict controls on conversion and weddings, but let’s be honest – we still need a Rabbinate, just not for this. Disseminate Rabbinical authority locally and just be done with it. We have bigger gefilte fish to fry.
I don’t know if my personal philosophy represents the majority of Religious Zionist or Modern Orthodox Jews, but I imagine the most unifying purpose of a Chief Rabbinate in our era would be its service as a figurehead of leadership for Jewish ethics and philosophy on the global stage, speaking out against the flurry of anti-religious legislation in Europe or providing badly needed money and books for communities with few teachers and little structure.
Israel needs someone, or some group, that recognizes that Jewish spirituality is a binding agent to Jews worldwide and a critical party of that Jewish identity that Federations the world over have tried to foster to fight assimilation.
Perhaps it sounds like some sort of contorted combo of Chabad and the Vatican.
Religious Zionism’s Mission & the Chief Rabbinate
I bring this up because I want Religious Zionism to remember the strategic need for Israel and the Diaspora to be connected with each other. The Diaspora’s strength is a clear aid for Israel on the global stage. Naftali Bennett did emphasize this in his limited role as Diaspora Affairs Minister the last two years. However, I want this to be a bigger deal in the community.
Israel’s strategic position is strengthened in every sphere with a strong Diaspora whose glue is the emotive and intellectual underpinnings of Jewry’s common faith. Without precluding non-religious Jews, the religious dimension of Zionism demands that we empower Israel as a center of spirituality, not merely identity. At a time where Judaism is one of several religions facing an intellectual challenge from atheism and agnosticism, there is no one charged by the State of Israel to maintain the Torah-infused glue of the Jewish community despite the infinite resources the state has poured into more general, identity-forming programs like Birthright Israel.
The Chief Rabbinate is a state-sponsored body charged with managing the religious needs of Jewish Israelis. The chief need now though is a specifically religious voice to protect Judaism globally. The Prime Minister of Israel cannot represent Judaism like the Pope speaks for Catholicism. Only a Chief Rabbi can do that. Even local Chief Rabbis find their voice limited – do the archbishops of the Catholic Church garner the same type of attention that the Pope does when he talks?
A Steward to the Nassi Sanhedrin and Av Beit Din would be better infused with a platform to speak out for global Jewry, represent Israel’s Jewish communities in the Diaspora, and motivate communities to work with each other on common interests much more often.
Religious Zionism Emanates beyond the Judean Hills
I propose that Religious Zionists – political parties, independent organizations, Rabbinical groups – edit whatever mission statements they have and incorporate a concept to define the purpose of a modern Israeli democracy having an intimate relationship with a Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate is a conduit for serving the interests of the country and to actualize Zionism’s original goal of a Jewish country where Jewish culture in all its forms can prosper; namely here, I refer to Torah and Judaism.
The Chief Rabbinate can be something much greater. it can provoke feelings of awesomeness rather than awfulness; feelings of optimism rather than aggravation; feelings of confidence rather than disappointment.
Doing that would actually realize one of the central tenets of Religious Zionism – the enshrining of Torah in the modern State of Israel.