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December 18, 1987 - Image 41

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-12-18

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LOSE WEIGHT

SUMP PUMP

Learn Why Counseling
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Should Rabbinate Rule
On Mundane Matters?

CARL ALPERT

Special to The Jewish News

H

aifa — Should the
Chief Rabbis of Israel
emerge from their
religious ivory tower and take
a stand on some of the press-
ing problems facing the coun-
try today, though these may
not necessarily be directly
related to observance of ritual
ceremony? Why do they re-
main silent on certain moral
and ethical matters, as if
their only concern is kashrut,
Shabbat and halachah?
These are some of the ques-
tions being asked today, not
only by secularists and critics
of the religious establish-
ment, but also by many Or-
thodox Jews who regret what

Their budget does
not even allow the
rabbis to serve
guests coffee.

appears to be the seclusion of
Israel's rabbinate from the
immediate problems of daily
life.
We put these questions to
Rabbi Yedidya Atlas, who
serves as spokesman of the
chief rabbinate.
First of all, he said, it
should be borne in mind that
their style is not like that of
politicians. They were not
chosen for their public appeal
qualities, like representatives
in the Knesset. Indeed,.
neither of the two chief rabbis
had ever ministered to a con-
gregation; they had always
been dayanim, judges in
religious courts, operating out
of judicial chambers.
Having said that, he denied
that the rabbis have been
silent. They have issued
public statements condemn-
ing violence on the Sabbath.
They consider stone throwing
on Shabbat a violation of the
sanctity of the day. They have
called on the public to combat
road accidents. They have en-
couraged aliyah and have con-
demned yeridah. Their state-
ments on these and other
issues have been proclaimed
repeatedly, but have for the
most part been ignored by the
press.
The only time the Israel
press gives any publicity to
the chief rabbinate, Atlas in-
ferred, is when there is a con-
troversy or disagreement or
criticism. Government minis-
tries — headed by politicians
— and other government
agencies all have public rela-

tions departments with ade-
quate budgets to assure the
projection of a good image.
The chief rabbis' public rela-
tions budget is zero, and Atlas
serves as their spokesman on
official occasions, on a volun-
tary basis. Their budget is so
stringent, he revealed, that
there is no provision to serve
tea or coffee to visitors, unless
the guest asks for it.
Misunderstood by the
general public, ignored by the
press and subject to dispar-
agement by critics, the chief
rabbis nevertheless exercise
considerable influence by vir-
tue of their joint posts as head
of the Rabbinical Supreme
Court and chairman of the
Chief Rabbis' Council. The
law gives the rabbinical
courts full jurisdiction in all
matters dealing with per-
sonal status, such as mar-
riage and divorce, and such
items as kashrut supervision.
The council deals with major
policies, and of late has taken
stands on heart transplants,
Ethiopian Jews, burial in
tiers .
The position of chief rabbi
was first set up in the
previous century uner the Ot-
toman Empire, which recog-
nized the Rishon Lezion, the
religious head of the Sephar-
di community. The Ashkenazi
Jews were not recognized by
the Turks.
With the establishment of
the British mandate over
Palestine, the institution of
the chief Rabbi was given
renewed legal status, but an
Ashkenazi incumbent was
recognized as well. The first
to hold the latter post was
Chief Rabbi Avraham Kook,
who served from 1921 until
his death in 1935. The State
of Israel continued their legal
status by a law passed in
1953. Both are paid by the
state, like justices of the civil
supreme court.
lbday the Rishon Lezion is
Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu, a
man in his middle 50s; the
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi is
Avraham Shapiro, about 72.
The two work in tandem. In-
deed, Atlas revealed, at the
desk of each there is always a
second chair, to be occupied by
his colleague should he come
in for a visit or a consultation.
The chief rabbis are chosen
for a ten-year term. Election
is by an electoral board which
is in turn appointed, 50 per-
cent by the religious courts
and rabbis, and 50 percentt by
the representatives of all the
political parties, irrespective
of their stand on religion.

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

41

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