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Thursday, October 06, 2016 

Has the Haredi-dominated rabbinate lost its battles?

Shmuel Rosner at the LA Jewish Journal thinks so:
The new survey by Hiddush – an organization dedicated to freedom of religion in Israel – gives many reasons for hope. It gives hope that Israel will gradually improve itself – and also gives hope that the level of hysteria concerning state-religion relations in Israel will be reduced. In fact, it ought to be reduced, as the survey proves that most of the great problems are going to be solved without much need for aggressive intervention. In other words: save the campaigns for something else – the Israeli rabbinate is crumbling anyways.

Take a look, for example, at the percentage of Jewish Israelis who’d rather have a non-Orthodox marriage ceremony. Last year, 63% of Israelis still said they wanted an Orthodox marriage even in case all marriages will be legally equal. This year, the percentage of Israelis insisting on Orthodox marriage declined by a whopping 10% to 53%. Among secular Israelis, almost eighty percent prefer other-than-Orthodox marriages (78%).
Assuming this applies even to non-Haredi Orthodox movements, it's regrettable but unsurprising if the Haredis turned some of the public against Orthodoxy as a whole. I'm sure there's something to think about in these findings, and Orthodox movements who take pride in their identities should start thinking seriously about condemning the Haredi establishment for the hurt they've led to.
But Hiddush updated their survey this year and added an interesting question. Following the one about one’s preference if all marriages were equally legal, they then asked what they prefer in the current legal situation – that is, when only Orthodox marriages through the rabbinate are legally recognized by the state. The answer: 33% would still opt out of the Orthodox arrangement. These are Israelis who prefer to A. have civil marriage outside of Israel, or B. cohabite without official marriage. There is no great surprise in this. Alternative marriages are becoming the preferred choice for many Israelis. In other words: Israelis, rather than fight the rabbinate, choose to ignore it.

This is a healthy attitude, one that circumvents the political obstacles to changing the system in an up-to-bottom kind of way – that is, convincing the Knesset, changing the laws, battling with the Haredi establishment, going to courts. Instead, the Israeli public chooses to follow a path that is inherently Jewish. Jewish law urges never to commit to a decree that the public cannot tolerate (see Talmud, Avoda Zara 36a: We make no decree upon the community unless the majority are able to abide by it). And make no mistake: it is not Orthodox marriage that the public rebels against – it is the interpretation of the rabbinate that it rejects. To put it somewhat differently: a significant portion of the public rejects Orthodoxy because of the rabbinate, and not the rabbinate because of Orthodoxy.
For which we have the Haredi crackpots to blame. Again, anybody who does uphold Orthodoxy in itself should take note here, because if Hiddush has any meat to their surveys, then the Haredis have to shoulder blame for turning the public against Orthodox customs.

Of course the public shouldn't have to go by what the rabbinate wants. But that doesn't mean that Orthodox Judaism in itself is bad, and that's why a certain distinction should be made, and probably is despite what's been reported.

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