AJC Calls for Reform of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate

AJC Statement on the Chief Rabbinate in Israel

June 27, 2012 – New York – AJC is calling on the Israeli government to reform Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to realign its role with current practices and lifestyles of Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora.

“In the 21st century, a coercive Chief Rabbinate has become, at best, an anachronism, and, at worst, a force dividing the Jewish people,” said AJC in a resolution adopted by the global Jewish advocacy organization’s Board of Governors. “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.”

A “religious status quo” agreement between Israeli religious and secular authorities in 1948 established the Chief Rabbinate as the supreme religious and spiritual authority for the Jewish people in Israel. But, in recent years, Chief Rabbinate actions and pronouncements on personal status issues and the legitimacy of non-Orthodox movements have raised rancor in the American Jewish community, as well as in Israel.

AJC provided examples of Chief Rabbinate actions and pronouncements that “threaten to divide the Jewish people and risk an anti-religious backlash against Judaism itself within the Jewish state.” These include nullifying retroactively conversions performed in the U.S., including by Orthodox rabbis; barring civil marriages in Israel; and delegitimizing the Reform and Conservative movements.

AJC urged the Israeli government “to undertake promptly all needed actions” to remove the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over issues of personal status, including marriage, divorce, burial, and conversion to Judaism. And, AJC called on the Israeli government to ensure that all organized American Jewish denominations are recognized by Israeli government bodies, and accorded the same rights and privileges as other currently sanctioned religious communities present in Israel.

As an alternative Chief Rabbinate framework, AJC suggested examining the Archbishop of Canterbury as a model. The Archbishop, chosen by the prime minister on behalf of the monarchy, heads the Anglican Church, comprising some 80 million adherents worldwide. The office of the Archbishop is largely ceremonial and ritualistic with no political power, which enables that office to seek to serve as a moral conscience of the country. In contrast, the Chief Rabbinate is an organ of, and receives funding from, the Israeli government.Date: 6/26/2012 12:00:00 AM
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