|Adopted by AJC Board of Governors|
June 25, 2012
advocates for and is committed to enhancing the security and safety of the
State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Israel’s welfare and vitality enrich the
Jewish people worldwide. AJC’s global
pro-Israel advocacy also strengthens U.S.-Israel ties.
Recent actions of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate threaten to
divide the Jewish people and risk an anti-religious backlash against Judaism
itself within the Jewish state. Of
particular concern is the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate over issues of personal
status – particularly marriage, divorce, burial, and conversion to
Judaism. Moreover, various
pronouncements of the Chief Rabbinate are anathema to many members of Diaspora
Jewry and threaten to fray ties that bind all Jews wherever they may reside.
The following practices are particularly troubling:
While rightly sensitive to the role of religion within a
Jewish state, Israel must balance civil liberties imperatives with those of Judaic
heritage and tradition. The role of Israel’s
Chief Rabbinate requires significant modifications so as to bring Israel into
greater harmony with contemporary democratic norms, particularly as practiced
and understood by Diaspora Jewish communities.
Chief Rabbinate has recently acted to nullify conversions retroactively,
including those by Orthodox rabbis in America.
Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious marriage has prevented the adoption
of civil marriage; those deemed not eligible to marry under Jewish law must
leave the country to obtain a civil marriage.
by Chief Rabbis and former Chief Rabbis delegitimizing the non-Orthodox
religious movements have proven deeply offensive to American Jews.
The Chief Rabbinate has used its authority primarily to
impose detailed requirements to decide who does or does not qualify as Jewish. In fact, because of its positions on matters
of personal status, the Chief Rabbinate’s pronouncements on moral issues have
far less impact than might otherwise be the case.
An alternate model of a Chief Rabbinate may be its transformation
into a largely ceremonial and ritualistic office embodying the Jewish nature of
the State of Israel resembling the British model of an Archbishop of
Canterbury. The Archbishop possesses no
tangible political power. Precisely
given that the Archbishop does not invoke the coercive power of the state, his
office may serve as moral conscience of the state. Transforming the office of the Chief
Rabbinate from state actor to the moral teacher it should be does alter the
“religious status quo” agreed to in 1948 by religious and secular bodies alike.
Yet, in the 21st century, a coercive Chief Rabbinate has become, at best, an
anachronism, and, at worst, a force dividing the Jewish people and corroding
Israel’s international standing.
AJC calls upon the Government of
Israel to undertake promptly all needed actions to the end that (a) matters of
personal status may, at the election of the persons involved, be determined by
civil authorities, and (b) that all organized Jewish denominations recognized
by the American Jewish community, along with their rabbis and rabbinic decrees
and rulings, be acknowledged and accepted by all Israeli government bodies and accorded
the same rights and privileges as all other currently sanctioned religious communities
present in Israel.