Historically, the Jewish people have always done better when their political leaders have gotten behind their rabbinical leaders. One of the reasons for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s success and longevity has been his respect and rapport with rabbinical leaders. It should not be lost on or forgotten by future prime ministers. It is to Ben-Gurion’s credit that he had a close relationship with first Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, of blessed memory. It is also a remarkable feat that Ben-Gurion continued the Chief Rabbinate and handed over control of marriages, conversions, divorce, and kashrus after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook envisioned the Chief Rabbinate as a position 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 to ascend to the position in Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. Both are sons of great rabbis: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l.
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 them and fortify them. In this period of introspection before the High Holy Days, it is fitting and proper to address the state of the Rabbanut.
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/shidduchim. The agunah problem has gotten worse. I have seen the train wrecks produced by the lack of centralized rabbinical authority.
The Rabbanut 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 the Rabbanut.
I saw an instance of this happen in 2014 when three religious boys, Naftali Fraenkel, 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 Governor Mike Huckabee to visit both of them, and they had a major impact on him. As a result, Mike Huckabee did an interview with Fox News with the mother of Naftali Fraenkel that had tremendous impact across the globe. 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/Igud HaRabbonim has close ties to the Rabbanut and is doing its share to fortify the vital functions and activities of the Rabbanut. I hope I can help in those praiseworthy and crucial efforts.
Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.