A Chief Rabbi Vis-à-vis the Diaspora Rabbinate

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Tazria-Metzora 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question (The questioner is a Rabbi in America who belongs to the R.C.A.): I saw on the Internet the conference at Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim about selecting a Chief Rabbi. Do you think the Diaspora Rabbinate should be involved in these elections, or that it is an internal matter of the Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael?

Answer: No offense intended, but this is an internal matter of the Rabbis of the

State of Israel, for the Chief Rabbi is the Mara De-Atra [leading Rabbinic authority] of the Land of Israel, who we are obligated to obey. There are many Rabbis amongst the Jewish

People with many opinions, but the Mara De-Atra of the city or of the country is the one who has the deciding vote over everyone else. Thus, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Herzog ztz”l would print on his stationary, “Head of the Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael”. The Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael choose a Rabbi whom they wish to heed. And since the Rabbis of America, with all due respect, have no reason to listen to the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael – no complaint intended – seemingly they have no need to involve themselves in his selection.

A parallel, but distinct, paradigm applies to the secular. They, too, have no reason to be involved in choosing the Chief Rabbi, because they do not intend to heed him. Quite the contrary: they want him to listen to them, i.e. for the Chief Rabbi to be subject to public opinion -- which itself is a new kind of idolatry. As Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Yosef Dov Soloveitchik ztz”l would call it (Divrei Ha-Rav, p. 87), the idolatrous worship of public opinion. The Rabbi does not have to be indentured to public opinion. Rather, the public has to listen to the Rabbi, let alone to the Chief Rabbi. And since the secular have no intention of listening to the Chief Rabbi, but want him to listen to them, they cannot make the selection. Bearing in mind all the differences, the same applies regarding the Rabbis of America.

Yet that isn't precisely the case. Ultimately, the State of Israel is the center of world Jewry, and what occurs there has ramifications for what happens in America as well. That does not mean that the Rabbis of America can choose who will be the Chief Rabbi of Israel, but they are entitled to express their opinion, and the Rabbis of the Land of Israel will decide to what extent to take their opinion into account.

And just as you heard at the conference, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Simcha Ha-Cohain Kook Shlit"a spoke at length about conversion. Conversion is a central point, and we have to stand guard on that score when it comes to choosing a Chief Rabbi. That indeed is the most difficult point for the secular public, because in Israel there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Soviet Union who are non-Jews. That creates a difficult situation, so there are some who suggest conversion without undertaking mitzvah observance, which is exactly what the secular want. Ha-Rav Simcha Ha-Cohain Kook emphasized that that is impossible, and that it certainly opposes the view of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, who founded the Chief Rabbinate. Moreover, G-d forbid that someone should say things like that in his name, for a Chief Rabbi of Israel certainly cannot take that view. He pointed out that the most important thing in conversion is: "I am Hashem, your G-d" (Shemot 20). Indeed, in order to convert, it is not enough to be part of the Jewish People. Rather as Rut said, "Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d" (Rut 1:16). The struggle over conversion certainly exists in America, and one must stand guard to ensure that the parameters are not breached, that all conversions include undertaking the yoke of Mitzvot, and, obviously, that they not be performed through the Conservatives or the Reform, but only through the Orthodox and the God-fearing. If - G-d forbid - those parameters of conversion were to be breached, it would also have harsh repercussions for American Jewry.

The Chief Rabbi of Israel has to be a spiritual leader who lays out an elevated path, and not just a clerk. As is well-known, Rav Soloveitchik said that he was not interested in being the Chief Rabbi, because he held that a Chief Rabbi is a clerk, and he did not want to be a clerk, but to learn Torah and to spread Torah (Divrei Ha- Rav p. 196).