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Chief Rabbinate of Israel

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Western wall jerusalem night

The Kotel is under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel (הרבנות הראשית לישראל) is the supreme Jewish religious governing body in the state of Israel. There are always two active Chief Rabbis in Israel, an Ashkenazi rabbi and a Sephardi rabbi known as the Rishon L'Tzion.

History

The positions of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbi existed before the state of Israel, those are known as the rabbis of the Yishuv haYashan. The title of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi is Rishon l'Zion.

The Chief Rabbinate

  • Levi ibn Habib (b. Spain) - ruled from Jerusalem but in 1538, Rabbi Jacob Berab who came from Spain via Egypt, sought to revive the Sanhedrin, in Safed, thus making that city, the competing capital of Israel. He was opposed and exiled by ibn Habib and the rabbis of Jerusalem but Safed remained the competing capital for a number of years thereafter. Berab was succeeded in Safed by Joseph Caro (b. Spain) who was ordained by him.
  • David ibn abi Zimra of the Egyptian rabbinate - ruled simultaneously in Jerusalem succeeding ibn Habib. In 1575, Moshe Trani (b. Greece) succeeded Caro in Safed.
  • Moshe Galante I of Rome - ruled from Jerusalem
  • Haim Vital - succeeded Trani in Safed but moved his rabbinate to Jerusalem which, once again, became the sole capital of Israel. In 1586, the Nahmanides Synagogue was confiscated by the Arabs and the ben Zakkai Synagogue was built in its stead.
  • Bezalel Ashkenazi - first chief rabbi to preside in the ben Zakkai Synagogue [1]
  • Gedaliah Cordovero [2]
  • Isaac Gaon?
  • Israel Benjamin [3]
  • Jacob Zemah (b. Portugal) [4]
  • Samuel Garmison (b. Greece) [5]

Rishon L'Tzion 1665-1842

[6]

The Haham Bashi 1842-1918

[7]

Role

The Rabbinate is the halakhic authority for the state, and controls many aspects of life in the Jewish state. Issues under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate include Jewish marriages, Jewish divorce, Jewish burials, Kashrut and kosher certification, olim, supervision of Jewish holy sites, working with various mikvaot and yeshivot, and overseeing Israeli Rabbinical courts.

Semicha

The Chief Rabbinate confers Semicha (Rabbinic ordination); "Semicha from the Rabbanut" is considered amongst the most prestigious of contemporary ordinations. It is granted once the candidate has passed a series of six written tests on specified subjects (Shabbat & Marriage; Family purity & Mikvaot; Kashrut; Aveilut). Additional Semichot - with similar testing requirements - are granted for "Rabbi of the City" (other relevant areas of Orach Chayim, Yoreh De'ah and Even Ha'ezer) and to Dayanim (laws dealt with in Choshen Mishpat) [1].

List of Chief Rabbis

Chief Rabbis have existed around the world for centuries. In Israel, there were pre-independence Rabbis and official Israel Chief Rabbis.

British Mandate of Palestine

Ashkenazi

Sephardi

State of Israel

Ashkenazi

Rabbilau

Recent Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau

Sephardi

Controversies

Secular Israelis

There have been many problems brought forth by secular Israelis regarding the Chief Rabbinate's strict control over Jewish weddings, divorce proceedings, conversions, and who counts as Jewish for the purposes of immigration. Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman of Jerusalem, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, has argued that the State of Israel need multiple rabbinates "that reflect the diversity of ideology permeating Israeli religious life. As the home of all Jews, the State of Israel does not have the right to determine authentic Judaism, but must reflect the diverse Jewishness of that population."[8]

The Rabbinate does not accept non-Orthodox converts or Rabbis to take part in any of the above listed ceremonies or proceedings. Because of this, many Israelis choose to marry abroad in nearby Cyprus or another location. About 47,000 Israelis, or 12 percent of those who married between 2000 and 2005, secured their union abroad, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel reported that in recent years about 20 percent are opting out annually.[9]

Relations with Vatican

In January 2009, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel suspended the meetings of its commission for dialogue with the Vatican (established at the request of Pope John Paul II) in protest over the Pope's decision to lift the excommunication of bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the Society of Saint Pius X and a noted denier of the Holocaust. Haifa Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, chairman of the Rabbinate's commission, told The Jerusalem Post that he expected Williamson to publicly retract his statements before meetings could be renewed.[10]

Oded Wiener, the director-general of the Chief Rabbinate, later declared that the public statements by Pope Benedict on January 28 had eased tensions, and the Israeli representatives may decide to attend a March meeting. The Pope's statements "were very important for us," he said.[11]

A formal meeting of a delegation of the Chief Rabbinate (led by Rabbi Cohen and including Wiener as well as Rabbis Rasson Aroussi and David Rosen)was accordingly held in the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI on March 12 at which the pope reiterated his condemnations of anti-semitism and holocaust denial and gave assurances that these would not be tolerated in the Catholic Church.

While there were reports that the Chief Rabbinate had ruled that a proposal to give the Vatican control over the major Christian shrines of the Holy Land is contrary to Jewish law, and demanded that any discussion of the proposal must cease.[12]; this was in fact the initiative of two rabbis who oppose the Chief Rabbinate's dialogue with the Catholic Church. Moreover the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified that the allegation referred to was totally without foundation.

During Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel in May 2009, he was officially received at Hechal Shlomo by the Chief Rabbis for a private exchange which was followed by a larger meeting hosted by the Chief Rabbinate Council. At these meetings the Chief Rabbis and the Pope expressed their satisfaction with the warm relations that had developed between the two institutions and the work of their bilateral commission for dialogue, the proceedings of which were published and made public

List of members of the Chief Rabbinate Council

Internal elections were held on September 23, 2008.[13][14]

Ashkenazi representatives

Sephardi representatives

In addition, there are five permanent members on the council:

See also

References

  1. Encyclopedia Judaica - "Levi ben Habib" - vol. 11 col. 99; "Berab, Jacob" - vol. 4 cols. 582-4; "Caro, Joseph" - vol. 5 col. 194; "Galante, Moses (I)" - vol. 7 col. 260; "Ashkenazi, Bezalel" - vol. 3 col. 723; www.jewishencyclopedia.com, "Jerusalem - Jacob Berab and ibn Habib"
  2. Encyclopedia Judaica - "Cordovero, Gedaliah" - vol. 5 col. 967
  3. ibid. - "Benjamin, Baruch" - vol. 4 col. 527; "Benjamin, Israel" - vol. 4 col. 528
  4. www.jewishencyclopedia.com, "Jerusalem - Solomon al-Gazi's Description"
  5. Encyclopedia Judaica - "Garmison, Samuel" - vol. 7 col. 329
  6. ibid. - "Rishon Le-Zion" vol. 14 col. 193; www.jewishencyclopedia.com, "Jerusalem - In the Eighteenth Century" "In the Nineteenth Century" "Albert Cohn and Ludwig Frankl"
  7. ibid. "Jews of Jerusalem" "Institutions"; Encyclopedia Judaica - "Israel, State of" - Religious Life and Communities - vol. 9 cols. 889-90
  8. "Israel cannot be arbiter of conversions to Judaism". http://www.hartman.org.il/Opinion_C_View_Eng.asp?Article_Id=126. Retrieved 2009-10-12. 
  9. "An Unorthodox Wedding: Seeking Alternatives in Tying the Knot". http://www.presentense.org/magazine/an-unorthodox-wedding. Retrieved 2009-10-12. 
  10. Chief Rabbinate cuts ties with Vatican
  11. Israeli Jewish leaders praise Pope's statement, reconsider break with Vatican
  12. Israeli chief rabbinate forbids concessions to Vatican
  13. "Chief Rabbinate:Rabbi Elituv in First Place". 2008-09-23. http://www.bhol.co.il/news_read.asp?id=6779&cat_id=1. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  14. "Ashkenazi haredim lose majority in Chief Rabbinate membership vote". Jerusalem Post. 2008-09-23. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1222017370980. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 

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