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Updated: 2013.10.10

Ra•bân•ut; Rabbinate: 17th century C.E., non-Biblical ordainment – by Turkey (Ottoman Empire) and secular Israeli governments.

Foreign "Sᵊmikh•âh": Turkish (Ottoman) Empire

Far from being an ancient historical (much less Biblical) institution, the Ra•bân•ut dates back only to 17th century appointments by the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire! Today's Ra•bân•ut is the product, not of Tor•âh, but of Dark Ages European (Ultra-Orthodox) medievalists empowered by secular politicians of the modern state of Israel (in return for "king-maker" Ultra-Orthodox voting blocks).

In the beginning of the 17th century, the title of the first Rishon lᵊTzi•yon was given to the chief rabbi of Jerusalem by the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire. In 1842, the position of "Hakham Bashi", Chief Rabbi of Constantinople who represented the Turkish Jews before the Sultan, and the position of Rishon lᵊTzi•yon which at that time already represented the Old Yishuv before the Sultan, were combined into one position [and only one Chief Rabbi!] called Rishon lᵊTzi•yon.

Foreign "Sᵊmikh•âh": British Mandate

During the period of the British Mandate of Palestine, the High Commissioner established the Orthodox Rabbinate, comprising the Rishon lᵊTzi•yon to which was added an Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, which the British Mandate recognized collectively as the religious authority for the Jewish community. In 1921, Abraham Isaac Kook became the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and Jacob Meir became the Sephardi Chief Rabbi.

Foreign "Sᵊmikh•âh": Adapted by Modern – Secular – Israel

In 1947, David Ben Gurion and the religious parties reached an agreement, which included an understanding that matters of personal status in Israel would continue to be determined by the existing religious authorities. This arrangement has been termed the status quo agreement and has been maintained despite numerous changes of government since. The Ra•bân•ut derives its authority not from Torah but from the secular politicians of the modern state of Israel.

"The rabbinate and the functions of the rabbi in modern Israel differ fundamentally from their counterparts in any other part of the Jewish world, whether ancient or modern. A number of factors have contributed toward this unique state of affairs. In the first place there is the law of the State of Israel which establishes the halakhah as state law in all matters affecting personal status, which includes marriage, divorce, legitimacy, and conversion and affords the rabbinical courts the status of civil courts of law within that wide sphere." [Thus, the authority of the Ra•bân•ut derives from the secular government, not Tor•âh.] "This, coupled with the fact that the Ministry of Religious Affairs was, apart from one brief interregnum, the prerogative of the (Orthodox) National Religious Party, has had the effect of making Orthodox Judaism to all intents and purposes the "established church" of the state, to the virtual exclusion of other religious trends in Judaism, Conservative and Reform, which have only a handful of congregations, mostly composed of recently arrived immigrants belonging to those trends in the countries of their origin."

Reform: Doubling to Twin Chief Rabbis

"A second factor determining the complexion and the functions of the rabbinate is the establishment of the twin Orthodox chief rabbinate (Ashkenazi and Sephardi) which are state appointments [emphasis added], and similar twin chief rabbinates in the larger cities. These local rabbinates and chief rabbinates are administered by the local religious councils, which are nominated through a complicated system of political party representation and the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and it is to all intents controlled by the ministry [emphasis added]. These councils consist of Orthodox Jews. All appointments of rabbis must be confirmed by the chief rabbis and the Ministry of Religious Affairs."

Reform: Dark Ages Europeanization (Ultra-Orthodoxation)

"A third factor is the fact that almost without exception the rashei yeshivot [yeshiva heads], who exercise a powerful influence in Israel, as well as the other rabbis who belong to the [political party] Agudat Israel (to which the rashei yeshivot also mostly belong), regard the National Religious Party and the chief rabbis who owe their appointments to their support as tending toward heterodoxy, a charge which they are at great pains to disprove or dispel. As a result, they are unduly apprehensive of any move which might be regarded as progressive or "reform." To these considerations must be added two others."

"The Ashkenazi rabbinate continues wholly the tradition of the classical Eastern European rabbinate, and the new incumbents to the rabbinate are wholly the products of the yeshivot, while the Sephardi rabbinate equally continues in their old traditions [emphasis added]. Lastly, the synagogue in Israel is, with only a handful of exceptions, not a congregational entity with fixed membership but a place for worship and study."

Supreme Bet Din of Appeal

"All these factors add up to the distinctive features of the rabbinate and the functions of the rabbis in Israel. Next to the chief rabbis the hierarchy consists of the dayyanim [judges] of the Supreme Bet Din of Appeal, followed by the dayyanim of the district courts. They are classified as civil judges with the emoluments and privileges of judges, and their functions are wholly judicial and not pastoral. Next in importance, and in receipt of salaries from the religious councils, are a host of rabbis who act as religious functionaries with specific and limited duties such as inspection of kashrut, of mikva'ot, of the eruv, of the adherence to the various agricultural laws, etc.

They also, by nature of their functions, perform no pastoral duties.

District Rabbis

Next in the scale come district rabbis, also appointed by the religious councils. In theory they are charged with the welfare of the community within the district over which they have been appointed, but with few exceptions they regard their position as a sinecure.

Neighborhood Rabbis

Lowest on the scale come, what in theory is the nearest approach to the Western rabbi, the rabbi of a [neighborhood (not all Orthodox "synagogues" in Israel have, or need, a rabbi)]. In the absence of a regularly constituted congregation, however, and with no official source of income, they are financially the least rewarded. Few synagogues pay anything approaching a living wage to these rabbis. They mostly depend upon one of the other rabbinic functions referred to for their livelihood, and their appointments largely commence as de facto ones which sometimes develop into uneasy de jure ones.

In the absence of the congregational unit with its duly paid-up membership, and the consequent lack of personal bond between rabbi and worshiper, there is nothing in the rabbinate in Israel which approaches the pastoral aspect of the work of the modern rabbi [emphasis added]. Marriages are performed by duly appointed officials of the local religious councils, funerals by the various khevra kaddisha organizations. Visiting the sick is not regarded as the function of the rabbi of a synagogue; cultural activities apart from the shi'urim in rabbinics are undertaken by other agencies, as is youth work and philanthropic activity. The virtual nonexistence of regular preaching should be noted."

"The cumulative effect of this situation is that the Western-trained rabbi even of Orthodox Jewry finds it hard to find a place in the rabbinate in Israel. Of all those who have immigrated few have been appointed to a rabbinical position in Israel, and most find their livelihood in other spheres." (Louis Isaac Rabinowitz, Jewish Virtual Library).

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