Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Role of Rabbis

Israel's latest tempest in a teapot is the controversy over a public Rabbinic decree banning the renting of homes to Arabs. You can catch up simply by doing a Google news search for the words "renting to Arabs". That's what I did, and you can see the results for yourself.

Many have complained about the edict. The issues of racism, and oversimplification of a complex halachic issue, have been written about extensively. Rightly so. I would like to emphasize another problematic aspect of the decree, that was alluded to in Rav Aharon Lichtenstein's response

He complains, "...almost the entire unfolding of events that resulted from the dissemination of this letter was foreseeable and, to a large extent, obvious. The public furor, both social and ideological, the rift that has opened among the citizens of the state—between camps and within camps, the op-eds in the various media outlets, the various positions, often impassioned and overheated, the attack on the religious-Zionist rabbinate from the right and from the left, even from Torah giants—it was all foreseeable. One reads it and wonders what happened to the wisdom of those who are enjoined to consider future ramifications?" (the emphasis is mine) 

In Talmud study we often ask to find the essential point of contention between two perspectives. In this case, I would argue that Rav Aharon believes that the role of Rabbis is to bring Jews together on areas of consensus, and the authors of the ban see their role as defending particular ideological positions within society. 

Assuming that this is  correct, I would simply like to point out that Rav Aharon is speaking in the voice of Rav Kook, whereas the other camp has apparently abandoned Rav Kook's approach. This breaks my heart. Rather than belabor the point, I will simply quote the relevant piece from Rav Kook. Please read his words carefully, and ask yourself if 21st century Rabbis, including Religious Zionist Rabbis, follow his guidance. 

The Rabbinate

The rabbinate is that great spiritual force, that crucial force which always shaped public opinion in the Jewish world… In our era, however, it has been greatly damaged, and its influence has waned. This development has had a detrimental affect on every aspect of our collective lives… 

Now that we desire to reestablish and thoroughly repair our national lives, we must also implement deep and penetrating reforms into the rabbinate of Eretz Yisrael, to breathe new life into this essential, spiritual force… [into] a significant force that will influence every aspect of our national revival…
Rabbis must play a prominent role in Israel’s revival. They must work with the people in every facet of the building and the national restoration… A continuous, mutual connection must exist between the rabbinate and every productive force in the land.

[Rabbis must] constantly strive to bring people closer to each other and introduce a spirit of peace between all factions and parties, by way of the holy sentiments that are equally shared in every Jewish soul. 

Rabbis must stay far away from all factional disputes and differences, they must view everything in a positive light, focusing only on the side of every faction and every event. This way, they will be able to infuse a spirit of sanctity, faith and pure Jewish awareness into the nation’s entire collective existence, materially and spiritually.

HaRabbanut, Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, pp. 52-54

Rav Kook

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