We live in the world of "breaking news." The competition of the media outlets for getting our attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, makes it difficult most of the time to see the forest for the trees. The need to bring news that provokes shock prevents us from reading much analysis of that news, and prevents us from having a more panoramic view of any situation.
It is in the spirit of helping us hear different voices that I present you with this article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
I also take this opportunity to invite you to join us in three weeks when Rabbi David Golinkin visits us as our Scholar-in-Residence. Our weekend with him will center around discussing some of these same issues with one of the most talented teachers from
Religious leaders’ seclusion, and the political power they have been granted, have led to expressions of belligerence that reflect a lack of understanding of life in this global era.
The Era of the Rabbis' Decline
Article by Dov Halbertal. Reposted from Haaretz.com.
Religious Zionists and and the ultra-Orthodox should be very concerned about the rabbis who represent them. The public face of Israeli Judaism, as manifested in the recent public statements of certain rabbis, is immoral, nationalistic and racist in a way that puts Judaism at risk of becoming irrelevant, even to itself, and certainly to the rest of the world.
For on the day when history looks back on this period, it will judge it as the era of the decline of the rabbis. Precisely at a time when the political doctrine of other nations is turning into a gospel of moderation, democracy and human rights, Judiasm’s message is degenerating as it backs into a dark corner.
The nation that gave the world the formative book of the monotheistic religions, a book that inspires billions of people around the world, is gradually becoming a mere footnote as the spirit of Judaism becomes desiccated. The French historian Raymond Aron once wrote that in politics, the choice is never between good and evil but between the preferable and the detestable. To my regret, the rabbis have proven that they choose the detestable.
That is the reason that we, religious Israelis of all stripes, have to rise up and say: No.
We must rise up and say no to the nationalistic tendency of an ever-increasing number of rabbis who exalt the value of the land at the expense of the human being, out of a mistaken interpretation of the Jewish textual sources and in a manner that constitutes an obstacle to peace and a risk to life.
We must rise up and say no to the rabbis’ letter stating that Jews should not rent apartments to gentiles, a letter that expresses the miserable and gloomy dawn of racism and xenophobia.
We must rise up and say no to the letter of support for former President Moshe Katsav, which is an affront to the justice system and reflects the increasingly deep-rooted pattern of illusory messianism. It is a continuation of the saga of rabbis ordering soldiers to refuse military orders, and paves the way to anarchy.
We must rise up and say no to a Judaism that bases its message on a mixture of mysticism and prejudice and that, in an age of reason, offers amulets and holy water as opium to the masses.
We must rise up and say no to the fiery speeches about hell that accompany the movement to bring Jews into the religious fold.
Under the sway of the rabbis who make those kinds of speeches, the movement leads to the effacement of people’s identities, to the point that they become a hindrance to themselves, their families and their surroundings.
The cry must reverberate from one end of the globe to the other. Because Judaism is losing more and more of the light of broad-mindedness, of its ability to bring inspiration to the world, and of the moderation and welcoming face that it exuded when it was a spiritual beacon lighting up the world. Instead, it is sinking into irrelevancy, extremism and stringency.
One might have thought that the political autonomy of a Jewish state would have led to a more developed and sophisticated religious message. But it appears that religious leaders’ seclusion within the Israeli experience, and the political power they have been granted, have led instead to expressions of belligerence that reflect a total lack of understanding of life in this global era − and that banish the principles of freedom, human dignity and tolerance to Jewish oblivion.
Martin Luther King said that while evil deeds must be condemned, so must the terrifying silence of the good. We would do well to remember that Spain’s Franco granted the church not only immunity from all state intervention in its affairs, but also the right to censor any written or oral statement that it did not like; this could eventually happen here as well.
Before it is too late to stop these trends, the good must break their silence, for as long as their voices can be heard and these lines can be written.
We must act to ensure that this period in which Judaism is characterized by narrow-mindedness and isolation will be but a transient episode, not a new and threatening Jewish ethos.
Religious Israelis must rise up and exercise their moral Jewish voice, in a determined and decisive way, and exclaim: No to the rabbis!
The writer is a lecturer in Hebrew law at the
and previously headed the chief
rabbi’s bureau. University of Haifa