Thursday, October 30, 2014

A New Start for the Jerusalem Rabbinate

"And Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem, took out bread and wine, and he was a priest of the exalted G-d" [Bereishit 14:18].
New Rabbis after some Complications
After ten or eleven years that the exalted post of the Rabbi of Jerusalem was not filled (since the passing of Rabbi Yitzchak Kulitz and Rabbi Shalom Mashash in 2003), the void has now been filled with the new elections of two candidates, Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar and Rabbi Aryeh Stern. The position of Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem is indeed exalted and honorable, possibly the most prestigious job of its type in the world, and former Chief Rabbis include such legendary luminaries as Rabbi Yisrael Salant and Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, along with a long list of prominent rabbis, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The current choice of these two rabbis involved both complex political struggles and intricate legal delays. However, this obstacle course is now behind us, and we can hope to derive pleasure from the activities of the newly-chosen rabbis, and especially from their joint activities on our behalf.
All of the struggles and the manipulated deals, and all the administrative and legal twists and turns, were centered on one question only: Is there a possibility for the religious Zionist movement to find a suitable rabbi who will be accepted by a majority of his colleagues? The question was never whether a candidate was appropriate for the job of rabbi of Jerusalem, but rather where he came from and in which surroundings he developed.
Rejection or Inclusion?
Indeed, I admit that as far as the residents of Jerusalem are concerned it does not matter very much which rabbi was chosen or from which "sector" he comes. In fact, for more than ten years the city continued on its way without a Chief Rabbi, and the sky did not fall. And it seems to me that the religious services of the city continued to operate, for better or for worse, even without a "ruler in the palace/capital." And I also admit that the question of how the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem will behave is nowhere near as important as the key question of the elections themselves: Can Torah Zionism succeed in achieving a prominent position within the rabbinate or not? To put it even more bluntly – as far as I can tell the character of and the role played by the Jerusalem rabbinate would be virtually the same no matter if it would be directed by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, the Chassid, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, the Zionist, or Rabbi Eliyahu Shlezinger, the "Lita'i." They are all well-liked, they are all clear in their statements, they are all pleasant to others, and they all know the same Torah. But now we come to the sharp blade of contention within the Beit Midrash: Will the camp (or camps) of the Chareidim admit that the above statement is true? And here the answer is well known, it is a resounding "NO!"
To our great sorrow, there is a complete lack of symmetry between the Chareidi and the religious Zionist camps with respect to mutual recognition of relevance to Torah and showing respect for prominent rabbis. Based on tradition, the Chareidi Torah giants are recognized and honored by the Torah Zionist camp. Their books are studied in detail, as is clearly seen on the walls of the Batei Midrash, where the books by Chareidi rabbis are displayed prominently. However, on the other side there is open rejection instead of respect, contempt instead of appreciation, and disregard instead of a show of interest.
I am not referring only to books about philosophy and faith or even books about current issues in halacha (such as "Techumin," which deals with Torah, society, and the state, or books that deal with halacha in the army and modern economics). Rather, I am referring to books that are strictly analytical or involve pure halacha. Perhaps the best example of this is the edition of the Talmud "Halacha Berura U'Birur Halacha" edited by Rabbi Aryeh Stern, the newly-elected Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Evidently the twenty-five tractates of this treatise cannot be found in any of the Chareidi yeshivot, even though it consists purely of collections of all the opinions of the early commentators for each passage in the Talmud. Matters even went so far that one of the Lita'i "mashgichim" commanded that a single volume that was displayed as an advertisement be removed immediately, striking the table and declaring that he would "resign if this book is allowed to enter our holy place," or something similar. And why is this so? It is totally unacceptable for them to acknowledge or to allow a belief that Torah can exist among the "goyim" who studied at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav and its subsidiary yeshivot!
However, in the end truth will prevail! There is valid Torah in the Torah Zionist camp, there are yeshivot and kollelim, there are rabbinical judges and authors, there are philosophers and educators, there are people with outstanding personal traits and wise men who can take part in halachic disputes ("baalei terissin" – see Berachot 27b).
And... now there is a Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem! I have a rabbi, my brother!
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The first time Jerusalem is mentioned in the Torah is in this week's Torah portion, in the verse quoted above, where it is called Shalem. There is also a hint of the rabbis of Jerusalem in the verse, with the name Malki-Tzedek. "Who are the kings (melech)? They are the Torah scholars." (See Gittin 62a, commenting on the verse, "Kings will rule over me" [Mishlei 8:15].)
In the Midrash, the sages note that Malki-Tzedek was Shem, the son of Noach (Rashi). He was the innovator of the concept of studying in a yeshiva, and a veteran Rosh Yeshiva, as in the phrase, "The Beit Midrash of Shem and Eiver" (see also Rashi, 21:8 – "The prominent scholars of the generation were Shem and Eiver"). The veteran scholar of the generation receives Avraham, the Ivri, with a blessing and presents him with bread and wine, which is a hint of the Torah – Halacha is the bread, and Aggada (thought and an approach of belief) is referred to as wine.

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