The fight for civil marriage cuts to the core of the key societal issue facing the State of Israel – is Israel a Jewish state or a state made up primarily of Jews? Orthodoxy holds the former, either as the official doctrine of Rav Kook’s followers and most of modern Orthodoxy or as the unofficial policy of all haredim. The rest of Israel primarily adopts the latter view, although the stridency of this adoption varies widely throughout society.
In a perfect world, Israel would have been a benevolent Jewish state, with a constitution based on halakha at its most lenient, with great effort made to deal kindly and thoughtfully with those whose status as non-Jews, safek Jews or as kohanim puts them at odds with a cursory reading of halakha. But the world is not ideal. And the state’s handling of these issues of personal status has been and continues to be atrocious, and this is due in no small part to the malfeasance of the rabbis who implement much of it.
Hillel Kook, known more commonly by his adopted name Peter Bergson, the great rescuer of European Jewry during the Holocaust, made this point long ago in near-prophetic terms. Speaking with the insight of a man who came from a distinguished rabbinic family – his uncle was chief rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook – and who had much experience dealing with Orthodox rabbis in organizational and administrative settings, Kook argued that Synagogue and State mist be separated. If not, he warned, Israeli society would be crippled and fragmented, and the people would be driven away from, not to, religion. Kook was ostracized and hounded for his remarks. He withdrew from politics as a result.
But Kook was right. Orthodoxy has had almost 60 years to both make its case to non-Orthodox Jews, and to show the rest of Israel they can honestly, fairly and compassionately deal with issues of personal status, Shabbat observance, kashrut and the like. And Orthodoxy has failed miserably and completely in each case. Rather than being the kindly faces of God they have instead become his corrupt and fanatic messengers, ripping Jews away from Judaism and Israelis away from the state.
It is too late now to go back and do it all over again. You had 60 years. You wasted them on Sammarian hilltops and on Mea Shearim riots, on nepotism, cronyism and corruption. You had chances. Plenty of them. You blew it.
Israel will soon dismantle the corrupt Rabbinute and fire the even more corrupt chief rabbis. It will close down the state apparatus for religious affairs. And it will separate Synagogue and State.
Rabbis will blame secular Jews, half-Jews, quarter-Jews and American Jews for this. They will blame the Other. But the truth lies much closer to home – bad rabbis and rabbinic corruption have destroyed Israel as a Jewish State. Will the lesson be learned?