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The importance of the Israeli rabbinate

In this period of introspection before the High Holidays, it is fitting and proper to address the state of the rabbinate.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (C) with Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at a swearing-in ceremony for the Rabbinate Council at the President's residence in Jerusalem, on October 24, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (C) with Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at a swearing-in ceremony for the Rabbinate Council at the President's residence in Jerusalem, on October 24, 2018. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
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Joseph Frager
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.

Historically, the Jewish people have always done better when their political leaders have gotten behind their rabbinical leaders. One of the reasons for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political longevity has been his respect and rapport with rabbinical leaders.

This should not be lost on or forgotten by his successors.

It is to first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s credit that he had a close relationship with first Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook. It is also a remarkable feat that Ben-Gurion handed over control of marriage, conversion, divorce and Kashrut to the Chief Rabbinate after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Rabbi Kook envisioned the role of the Chief Rabbinate as follows: “The Rabbanut will have an impact by virtue of its constant efforts to bring people together, to inject a spirit of harmony among all parties and factions, and to strengthen the Torah and its honor in the Holy Land and throughout the world.”

It is up to all of us to achieve this lofty goal.

The Jewish people today are truly blessed to have two of the finest chief rabbis—Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. Both are sons of great rabbis: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

I had the pleasure, honor and privilege of meeting and spending time with the fathers and their sons. Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef are rabbis of great vision, wisdom, and renown.  The Jewish people the world over would do well to follow and fortify them. In this period of introspection before the High Holy Days, it is fitting and proper to address the state of the rabbinate.

Centralized rabbinical authority is a necessity to keep our people on the straight and Torah true path. The Chief Rabbinate was created in order to do just that. In every generation, we must try to strengthen rabbinical authority. Unfortunately, my sense is that the opposite has occurred.

This has led to turmoil in conversions, divorce and matchmaking. The agunah (women refused divorces by their husbands) problem has gotten worse. I have seen the train wrecks produced by a lack of centralized rabbinical authority.

The rabbinate can help be a guiding light and hand. It is precisely the centralized authority we all need and seek. Both Israeli and Diaspora rabbis must try to unite behind it.

I saw an instance of this happen in 2014 when three religious Israeli boys—Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach—were abducted and murdered. Both Rabbi Lau and Rabbi Yosef were extremely helpful in dealing with this crisis.

I brought Gov. Mike Huckabee to visit both of them, and they had a major impact on him. As a result, Huckabee interviewed Frenkel’s mother on Fox News, and it had a tremendous global impact. It was one of the crucial factors that led Israel to go to war against Hamas in “Operation Protective Edge.”

The Rabbinical Alliance of America has close ties to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and is doing its share to fortify its vital functions and activities. I hope I can help in those praiseworthy and crucial efforts.

Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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