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April 15, 1983 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-04-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

10 Friday, April 15, 1983

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Chief Rabbis More Powerful Than President



By CARL ALPERT

HAIFA — The election of
two new chief rabbis in Is-
rael has not attracted as
much attention overseas as
the election of Israel's new
president, but the fact is
that the chief rabbis have
considerably more power
and influence than the
president. The very institu-
tion of a chief rabbi, as a

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strange to Jews overseas.
Furthermore, we have not
one but two — one serving
the Ashkenazi community,
and the other the Sephardi.
The office dates back to
the time of the Ottoman
Empire, when the govern-
ment assured each of its
religious minorities full au-
tonomy in matters of con-
cern to them. The religious
leader of the Jews was
known as the Haham (the
wise one) and with the addi-
tion of the Turkish transla-
tion he became known as
Haham Bashi.

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When the British man-
date was established over
Palestine after the First
World War, the High Com-
missioner, Sir Herbert
Samuel, wanted to assure
the rights of the Christian
and Moslem communities.
He continued the same
principle of autonomy, and
of course the Jews organized
their religious affairs in
parallel fashion. The sup-
reme religious authority,
created in 1921, became
known as the chief rabbi.
Each community is
given jurisdiction and
control over matters
which in other countries
fall under civil law, such
as marriage, divorce,
alimony, burials, etc. Any
attempt by Israel to
change the system— for
example, to strip the Mos-
lem Shariah courts of
their jurisdiction over
these areas of religious
concern to them, would
cause the entire Moslem
;;:xvorld to rise up in pro-
test, and a revolution
would probably break
out at home.
Much of the day-to-day
administration of these
matters is carried on by the
Ministry of Religious Af-
fairs, with which the chief
rabbinate is associated. The
ministry handles the con-
cerns of all religious groups
in Israel,. and assures the
independence and au-
tonomy of each.
The concerns of the
Jewish community are
many, ranging from
yeshivot to kashrut super-

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vision and to mikvas, ritual
baths. In each local commu-
nity are religious councils,
responsible to the ministry
in Jerusalem, and drawing
their budget from it.
Salaries of the rabbis, reli-
gious court judges and the
various officials and func-
tionaries, are all paid from
the budget of the ministry.
One of the most trouble-
some aspects of the whole
institution is that while Is-
rael recognizes the rights of
Christians and Moslems,
Bahais and Karaites and
Samaritans, there is no
such recognition of any
rights for Liberal or Con-
servative Judaism in an es-
tablishment which is oper-
ated by and for Orthodox
Jews. The issues involved
are going to erupt into open
conflict with increasing fre-
quency.
The chief rabbinate has
two primary areas of op-
eration. One is general
supervision of most rab-
binical functions in the
country; the other is the
Supreme Religious
Court, which acts as a
court of appeal from the
many local rabbinical
courts which handle di-
vorce cases, and various
disputes of religious con-
cern.
By new agreement,
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Av-
raham Shapiro and
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mor-
dechai Eliahu will divide
their 10-year term. One will
serve for five years as chief
rabbi and the other as chief
justice of the court; for the
second five years they will
reverse their roles. Among
recent incumbents this had
been a matter for dispute.
Headquarters of the chief
rabbinate is located in Hek-
hal Shlomo, in Jerusalem. It
is sometimes jocularly re-
ferred to as the "Datican," a
play on the words Vatican
and dati, the Hebrew word
for "religious."
The chief rabbis were
elected by an electoral
board consisting of 150
members, 80 of them rabbis
and the remainder civic
leaders at large. Most of the
electors were chosen on the
basis of political considera-
tions, and the election cam-
paign was a not very edify-
ing spectacle.
The office of the chief
rabbi is modified by the
character and personal-
ity of the man who oc-
cupies the post. To this
day Chief Rabbi Av-
raham Yitzhak Kook,
who served in the
Ashenazic post from 1921
until his death in 1935, is
regarded as the leading
and dominant personal-
ity in the modern rabbin-
ical history of the coun-
try.
His administration was
marked by courageous rul-
ings which sought to inter-
pret Halakha, strict Jewish
tradition, in terms of mod-
ern living. He was suc-
ceeded by Chief Rabbi Yit-
zhak Halevy Herzog, who
came to the post after being
chief rabbi of Ireland.
Chaim Herzog is his son.

The next Ashkenazi Chief
Rabbi was Shlomo Goren,
who brought a certain flam-
boyancy to the position. He
earned paratrooper wings,
and had a great sense of the
dramatic, as evidenced by
his blowing of the shofar
atop Mount Sinai, among
other exploits. The success-
ive Sephardi occupants of
the post have been marked
by their dignity and schol-
arship, but they were not as
well known in the West.
It is generally expected
that under the administra-
tion of Chief Rabbis Shapiro -
and Eliahu, the "Datican"
will enter a conservative
period of strict interpreta-
tion of Jewish Law, afford-
ing little hope to Jews who
do not subscribe to or-
thodoxy.

The man who will live
above his present circum-
stances, is in great danger of
soon living much beneath
them; or as the Italian pro-
verb says, "The man that
lives by- hope, will die by de-
spair."
—Addison

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There will be entertain-
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