The Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel has several different public faces. Its best known face has always been that of the two Chief Rabbis, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, who are Judaism’s official representatives to the Israeli public (and often act as such towards the world). Also well known nowadays is the rabbinic court system, which has legal jurisdiction over matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, conversion) in the State of Israel. Once a shadowy realm that most Israelis knew nothing about unless they were getting divorced, the rabbinic courts have become the subject of fierce criticism and deep public dissatisfaction in recent years. They have been rescued from obscurity by their notoriety.
The final public face of rabbinic establishment is the official “local rabbinate” (rabbanut mekomit), which includes the rabbis of cities (usually an Ashkenazic-Sephardic pair), urban neighborhoods and urban synagogues, as well as the rabbis of large rural areas and small rural communities (such as settlements, kibbutzim and moshavim).
The local rabbinate has always been the least prominent aspect of Chief Rabbinate’s public image, with official local rabbis often being dismissed as irrelevant to local religious life, especially in urban settings. While it is true that the authority and influence of the official local rabbinate has long been replaced in many ways by yeshivot and other voluntary institutions, it still wields great power in many aspects of religious life for Israelis.
In this essay I will argue that despite the lack of importance often ascribed to it, the very existence of Israel’s local rabbinate as an official institution creates terrible distortions in the Torah leadership of Israel's religious communities and in the way Torah is presented to the wider Israeli public, with grave ramifications in particular for the future of Modern Orthodoxy in Israel.
The essay will show how the very existence of the official local rabbinate violates the freedom of religion in Israel not just for liberal or secular Jews (as has often been argued), but very much so for Orthodox Jews as well. Finally, it will mention ways to nurture alternative options for rabbinic leadership and democratic religious community life in Israel's urban areas.
The Balance of Power
Let us begin with a story as an example: Imagine a Modern Orthodox synagogue in a city or suburb, someplace in North America. A community meeting was called, and members were invited to attend with the purpose of electing a new synagogue board. There had been no elections for over a decade, and the old board was no longer capable to functioning. This seemed to have nothing directly to do with the rabbi, a pleasant hareidi fellow whose contract was in force and not being voted on. Indeed, the rabbi opened the meeting with a short devar Torah and announced with a smile that, as one who is neither voting nor being voted on, he wishes the members success in their election of a new board.
The rabbi then remained seated in his place. The gabbai took out a paper with a list of names, a proposal for the new synagogue board. The gabbai's own name was first on the list as chairman of the board, as was appropriate for a man who worked hard for the synagogue and contributed lovingly in countless ways. But most of the members attending were astounded by the rest of the list: First of all, numerous talented members of the synagogue who had expressed interest in serving on the board were not on the list. Secondly, not a single woman was on the list, though several were openly interested and had wide support. People began to criticize the list and suggest alternatives.
The first to respond was the rabbi, who ruled that it is halakhically forbidden for a woman to serve on the board of a synagogue. Though if there is a desire, he added, he was willing to set up a parallel “women’s board” that would represent women’s concerns to the board and to the rabbi. He added that, at a synagogue board meeting, there was no place for negative argumentation, and that he would walk out if anyone raised their voice while the conversation continued.
Then the gabbai spoke, making an impassioned speech about the authority of the rabbi. This is the list that received the rabbi’s approval, he said, and by definition one cannot sit on the board of a synagogue if he doesn’t accept the rabbi’s authority. The purpose of the meeting that evening was to ratify the rabbi’s list, he said, and no other.
A firm majority of the members attending the meeting, 70% or more, were strongly opposed to the rabbi’s list. They demanded an open vote for anyone who wanted to be a candidate, including women. But the rabbi threatened to leave and the gabbai’s reply, along with two or three of the rabbi’s supporters, was firm and clear: "A synagogue is not a democracy. There will be no vote. And not only that, but anyone who rejects the rabbi’s authority is not a true member of the synagogue in the first place, so how can he possibly vote?"
I suspect that most people reading this in English predict the following as the outcome: The majority of the synagogue’s dues-paying, voting members censure the rabbi and the gabbai for refusing to abide by the synagogue’s constitution, as well as for extraordinary hutzpah, however pleasant and hardworking they might usually be. It is quite possible that they will fire the rabbi for breach of contract and hire a new one who is less hareidi, who understands the congregation better, and more closely shares the Modern Orthodox world view of most members. Readers (including rabbis) would hold the rabbi and the gabbai accountable to the will of the community, and would furiously reject a rabbi who openly abuses his congregation, just like they would refuse to accept a congregation that abuses its rabbi.
However, the story above is a true one, and that was not its outcome. What actually happened is that the rabbi’s list was accepted without a vote, as demanded by the rabbi’s minority of supporters. Two names were added to it “conditionally” as cosmetic changes (pending further consultation with the rabbi and the gabbai). Neither of them, of course, was a female. And people kept attending the synagogue afterwards as if nothing had happened. The reason for this astounding outcome is quite simple: The story indeed took place, but not in North America. It happened in Israel.
The coming pages will survey three sharp differences between Israeli synagogue communities and American ones: (a) the voluntarily nature of the communities, (b) elected rabbis, and (c) elected synagogue boards. Then we will discuss how Religious Zionism has dealt with religious community life in Israel's cities and towns thus far, concluding with some comments about alternative approaches.
The First Difference: Voluntary Communities
Israeli synagogues are fundamentally different from those in North America. American synagogues (of all denominations) are typically volunteer communities. People join them of their own free will, and such communities exist only by virtue of their membership. They build their own synagogue buildings, hire their own rabbis, install their own mikvaot, put up their own eruv, support their own local Orthodox day-schools for their children, and run their own (mostly-volunteer) hevra kadisha. Such synagogues have an intrinsic, healthy self-interest in attracting the Jews around them to their way of life and into their communities. To be warm, welcoming and friendly is basic to most of them, as both a form of healthy self-interest and as the right thing to do.
In Israel, however, all of the above functions are municipal services provided by official agencies (city hall and the local religious council). This makes Orthodox Jewish life a great deal easier, and to some it may even seem like a kind of religious Jewish utopia. But this top-down system of religious life—as opposed to the bottom-up system in North America—also tends to make Israeli synagogues apathetic to the millions of Jews around them. “If you want to come to our synagogue—great. If not—no loss to us.” In Israel’s cities and towns it is virtually unheard of for a typical synagogue community to make special efforts at bringing in those who don’t affiliate with it. And the fact that religious services are provided by Israel’s most hated institution—the official rabbinate—does nothing to endear those services to the wider public.
In contrast, Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel are volunteer communities, precisely because they are not recognized by the rabbinic establishment. They do outreach as a matter of course. Since they are not supported by the official rabbinate, nor by the city’s religious council, nor by the religious parties within the municipal council, they make every effort to win support from the ground up by drawing people into their communities. This grassroots support sometimes earns them the help of secular parties in the municipality, and they also have their national movements and American counterparts to back them up.
Voluntarily Orthodox communities are the ones left completely in a no-man’s land. The local rabbinate usually won’t support them, nor will the city’s religious council, and even the local National Religious Party representatives will probably hesitate. The local secular parties will ignore them too (“If you’re dati then go to the rabbis!”), and they have no official movement to back them up. Plus, they have to compete with other Orthodox synagogues already providing services to the very same population for free with municipal funds. For all of these reasons, there are relatively few such synagogues in Israel. This venue will be discussed further towards the end of the essay.
The Second Difference: Elected Rabbis
The structure of local rabbinic leadership in Israel also differs fundamentally from North America. American rabbis are chosen freely and directly by the membership of a synagogue, and both sides are held accountable to a signed contract between them. Typically the synagogue board negotiates a contract, and then the congregation ratifies it through a vote.
In Israeli cities and towns, however, the local “chief rabbis” for cities and neighborhoods are appointed through an indirect process, and once selected they serve for life (they cannot be fired). To get an idea of what "indirect" means, imagine if the president of the United States was selected by a Senate subcommittee, instead of being voted on by American citizens. And then suppose that once selected, the president served for life, unaccountable to the Senate or anyone else for his decisions. The inability to choose a rabbi or fire him makes it very hard for a religious community in urban Israel to wind up with the kind of rabbi it wants and needs.[i]
The following is an extreme (but true) example of the vast difference between the two systems: A large number of English-speakers all attended the same synagogue in a small Israeli city. The synagogue had no rabbi. The members learned of a recently retired American rabbi who planned to make aliyah and considered settling in their town. So they raised a modest sum of money amongst themselves, in order to hire him as their part-time rabbi and help facilitate his aliyah. When the town’s chief Ashkenazic rabbi heard about this plan, he called a meeting and told them: “I am the rabbi of this town. If there is to be a rabbi for this synagogue, it will be the rabbi of my choice. And if money has been raised to pay a rabbi, then it will pay the rabbi that I appoint!”
The board of the synagogue then consulted a lawyer, who advised them that the according to Israeli law the city rabbi was fully within his legal rights to deny them their choice of synagogue rabbi. (The bit about the money was apparently an empty threat, but one that nonetheless worked.) Some members still did not want to give in (perhaps by making the American their rabbi unofficially), but the gabbai and other influential members were very scared. In the end the immigrant rabbi was not hired, and the synagogue remained without a rabbi for a decade. Finally, a rav beholden to the city rabbi was appointed by the board (an official appointment for a lifetime as stipulated by Israeli law).
The appointed rabbi is a fine Torah scholar who holds a prestigious position at a local kollel in town. He is a pleasant person, but rarely develops personal relationships with the families of his congregants. He was appointed on condition that he accept the long-term Zionist trappings of the synagogue (such as recitation of the prayer for the State of Israel), but otherwise he disallows social initiatives that have a non-hareidi flavor. Should his basic appropriateness as a rabbi justify the lack of accountability implicit in a lifetime position not subject to contract?
The rabbi's duties are basically his weekly derashah and an occasional shiur; he attends on Shabbat and is involved with other duties such as his kollel the rest of the week. The agreement between the city rabbi and the synagogue board stipulated that the rabbi would have absolutely no economic relationship with his congregation (i.e. they pay him no salary). In principle, this still allows the city rabbi to list the synagogue as one for which he supplies a rabbi, when reporting on his activities to overseas foundations and donors who support hareidi causes in Israel, and to pay the rabbi a salary funded through the donations. Or the city rabbi may be able to secure a government salary for his appointee. For those who haven't yet guessed, this synagogue rabbi is the same one who, a few years following his appointment, dictated the list of his synagogue's board members.
In the very same town, a Sephardic synagogue with a knitted-kippah community made itself the base for a small Religious Zionist kollel. The head of the kollel was not only a fine Torah scholar but also an extraordinarily warm, kind person who opened his home to the entire community, and an excellent teacher. So the synagogue’s board asked him to be their rabbi, and he agreed to do so for free. The official reaction was not long in coming, however. The local rabbinate and religious council responded by publishing full-page ads in local newspapers declaring that no one may be called the rabbi of a synagogue without their approval, and that any such move is against the law.
Another rabbi in the same town was a gifted educator, who literally built the public religious school system (mamlakhti dati) with his own two hands. He also served for decades as the rabbi of a Sephardic synagogue without official recognition: The people regarded him as their rabbi, but he was never formally recognized as such because of the city's rabbis, who opposed him for his non-hareidi school system. Finally, when he suffered an injury and could no longer serve as rabbi of the synagogue, he was replaced with a hareidi appointee.
Needless to say, a group of people who want to build an American-type, voluntary Modern Orthodox community has little or no chance of being recognized or supported by the local rabbinate in most Israeli cities, or hiring a rabbi to its liking. In the eyes of the Israel's mostly hareidi local rabbinate, the status of an Orthodox rabbi or community without its sanction is the same as a Reform rabbi or community.
How did this dictatorial system come to be? The answer apparently lies in history, because Israel's founders came from the classic kehillot of Europe. In this model a rabbinic hierarchy existed that derived its sovereignty from the Jewish community, by whom it was elected. The kehillah's sovereignty expressed itself in ways that wouldn't be considered fully democratic today, but the bottom line was that a rabbi was appointed following a vote, and his authority had to be renewed at set intervals by the community. As Jacob Katz has written:
The outstanding feature of the kehillah institutions was that no position, high or low, was granted for life and none, certainly, was hereditary. The rabbi and shtadlan (interceder with the gentile authorities) were appointed for fixed terms. In is true that there periods could be renewed, there being no requirement that the incumbent resign after his term expired, but the decision was left to the persons charged with filling these appointments. Sextons, scribes, and other minor office-holders were sometimes appointed for an unlimited period, but in any case, they were essentially subordinates. Their appointments could be voided as a punishment for malfeasance or for disobeying the orders of their superiors. The higher officials, however, could not be dismissed during their term of office, since no disciplinary measures applied to them. But their attachment to the positions was limited in that their appointments terminated after a specific period.
The sociological aim of these arrangements is obvious: the periodic replacement of office-holders served as a barrier against an individual's monopolizing office either as a source of livelihood or power. Limiting the period of service or of the retention of the appointment militated to a certain extent against abuse. In the absence of any effective bodies for the control of the activities of the leaders, the change of officials every few years was of primary public importance. By-laws were most strict about the prompt holding of the annual (biennial or triennial in the super-kehillah) elections.
This regular election timetable was strictly adhered to even in places where the circle of candidates was limited. But public interest in the replacement of office-holders did not derive merely from the aspirations of their prospective successors. It was a matter of concern to the entire community. The changeover in itself guaranteed that the office-holders would take public opinion into account, and it symbolized in the eyes of the community the fact that the governing authorities derived their mandate from the people.[ii]
A comparison of the Israeli rabbinate (on the local level) versus the American rabbinate (in terms of Orthodox pulpit rabbis) shows that these two important systems have taken the European model in two different directions, each for its own reasons. The American adaptation of the European kehillah system is simple to describe: First, it left behind the official hierarchy within the European rabbinate, because the concept of a "chief rabbi" for a major city was untenable in America; it instead made do with the rabbis elected by local synagogues, who became colleagues with no "chief rabbi" above them on a municipal or national level. These rabbinic colleagues went on to form national rabbinic organizations which elect their officials democratically.
The second change was to expand the quasi-democratic underpinnings of the European kehillah system into a fully democratic model, American style, by giving each member of a synagogue one vote, with kind-hearted synagogues even finding ways to subsidize the memberships of those who could not pay. Overall, it might be said that American Jews looked back at the European kehillah with a combination of nostalgia, admiration, and moderate criticism, and tried recreate an improved model of it for the New World.
The Israeli adaptation is far more complicated. Its structural underpinnings were created by a single man, none other than Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook himself. Rav Kook was intimately familiar with the structure of the kehillah in Eastern Europe, for he and his family were part of its rabbinate. But from all accounts, his impressions of the kehillot he knew included neither nostalgia nor admiration, for the kehillah structure caused excruciating personal pain to family members and to himself personally. Rav Kook witnessed communities that abused their rabbis and drove them into poverty. He saw to the full extent possible that when rabbinic positions rely directly on community sanction, the door is left wide open for a community to mistreat its rabbi in terrible ways.
The central pillar of Israel's official rabbinate is that rabbis are appointed for life.[iii] The underlying value is that a rabbi is responsible to no one but God. He cannot be held accountable to the community, because that would prevent him from speaking the truth of Torah fearlessly, exactly as he sees it. Only rabbis who fear not men but God alone, can provide the Torah leadership needed build the third Jewish commonwealth according to the Torah.
Rav Kook also had a tremendous amount of political acumen, which came into play when he created the process for electing rabbis (who serve for life afterwards). On the one hand, his vision for Zionism required that the official rabbinate be truly official, i.e. that its rabbis hold actual government positions with formal rabbinic jurisdiction over the public by law. On the other hand, public servants must be appointed through a public process, but the population in that age of secularism and rebellion against tradition could not be relied upon to appoint true men of Torah as rabbis. The solution he found was to avoid choosing city rabbis by a direct vote of all the citizens, and to instead have them "elected" by a committee heavily weighted towards synagogue representatives, local religious councils, and rabbis with national authority (the latter two being institutions which he was personally responsible for creating as well). It should be noted that the very inclusion of municipal representatives (often secular) on such committees resulted in fierce criticism of Rav Kook by the Old Yishuv, despite the fact that in reality his election committees were weighted heavily against them.
The system is designed so that the current rabbinic establishment is capable, to a large degree, of dictating which rabbi will be elected as a city rabbi or control a particular synagogue. Given that they had heavy influence on the local religious council, controlled the national rabbinate, had municipal coalition agreements that let them decide local religious matters, and might even be able to dictate the identity of synagogue representatives (as we shall see in the next section), the life-long members of the rabbinic establishment used these rules to perpetuate their influence throughout the twentieth century and to this very day.
When the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is criticized (as it often is today), there are those who bemoan the loss of its "Golden Age", referring to the years when world-class Torah scholars and leaders served as Chief Rabbis: Some of the names that might be mentioned are Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel, Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. The "degeneration of the generations" becomes clear when these men are compared to more recent Chief Rabbis who, talented as they may be, are not scholars or leaders of the same caliber, and usually follow the lead of a gadol ha-dor who sits outside of the official rabbinate.
However, in my opinion there never really was a "Golden Age" of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Not because the position of Chief Rabbi has not been degraded (it certainly has), but because that position never really was the most important aspect of the system. It only seems to be. The positions that truly have direct power over the populace, and become the representatives of Judaism in people's personal lives, are those of the local rabbis that they meet and talk to and are forced to work with directly, not the Chief Rabbis of the entire country. But the local rabbinate never had a golden age.
Of course there have been outstanding city rabbis in Israel, and there still are today. I am personally privileged to live in a town with a brilliant, talented and highly charismatic rav who has built what is perhaps the most beautiful hareidi community in Israel. I also have great respect for his extensive activities that exhibit deep concern for the public at large (even though myself and others are often deeply disappointed by his decisions and his tactics). But the chance for an equally outstanding candidate to be elected in any particular locality is even less likely than on the national level, primarily because the local powers-that-be take far less interest in these positions, and are far more willing to give them away based on political considerations. In other words, the apathy that exists today about who serves as Chief Rabbi has been true of local rabbis all along.
Most local rabbis in Israel have been hareidi from the very beginning of the system, for the simple reason that initially hardly any rabbis of another variety existed. They still are today, for two reasons: The first is municipal coalition agreements with hareidi parties, and the second is peer pressure. To understand the second reason, remember that these rabbis serve for life and can never be fired. There are examples of local rabbis who have been elected because they were thought to be "open" or "modern" or "Zionist" and then turned out to be nothing of the sort, or changed their way of life along the way to conform with the mainstream of Israel's rabbinic world.
But ideology is not the fundamental issue here, hareidi or otherwise. The real issue is accountability: Power without accountability is nearly always an unhealthy situation, and Israel's local rabbis hold significant power. The official rabbis of a city control all local kashrut supervision and maintenance of of the eruv. These activities generate significant income, and offer numerous paid positions. They also cast considerable weight within the religious council that disburses public funds for religious purposes, such as the ongoing expenses of local synagogues and the upkeep of mikvaot.
In principle, this power can be used by city rabbis to enforce their will in ways that are technically legal but morally ambiguous. For instance, if a city rabbi declares that the eruv is pasul, it is not inconceivable that he thinks too few of his students are being employed to check it; but it will be hard for the public to know whether the issue is halakhic or political. Or consider a city rabbi who sets up a private school system of his own with a hareidi orientation: He may compete with the public religious schools (mamlakhti dati) not just in positive ways (by building excellent schools) but also use his municipal power against his rival in negative ways.[iv]
The city rabbis also have complete control over life-cycle events for the entire public, religious and secular alike. One can only get married by going to a local city rabbi. He decides who can be married, and sends anyone whom he deems halakhically problematic to a beit din for further investigation, taking no further responsibility for them.[v] Assuming he deems the couple kosher,[vi] he decides who will marry them, usually a rabbi they have never met before. Israelis do not have the freedom to choose the rabbi who performs their marriage, with the sole exception of yeshivah students who have the privilege to ask their rosh yeshivah to marry them (this exception is spelled out in official protocols). The city rabbis also have authority over the hevra kadisha and dictate how burials must be performed.
All of this power makes the position of a city rabbi ideal for building local Torah institutions. Armed in addition with an excellent salary that guarantees him financial security for life, a talented and motivated city rabbi can build extraordinary institutions with relative ease, and continue to exert full control over them until old age. To further consolidate his power a city rabbi will often create his own local political party, augmenting the authority already granted to him by the law with the power reaped through coalition agreements at city hall. In many Israeli cities and towns, the city rabbis run such parties openly and are directly represented on the town council. As paid public servants it is clearly against the law for them to do so, but the Israeli political and legal systems have never curbed this phenomenon, either out of a lack of ability or a lack of will. The most likely explanation is that no effective sanction against this practice exists, since city rabbis cannot be fired.[vii] So all of this power comes without any accountability whatsoever to the public.
Ironically, it is often mediocre city rabbis who ultimately serve their cities best, simply by letting the many different religious communities in town establish their own institutions and run them as they see fit. This eventually serves to create a rainbow of Torah institutions that serve the widest range of people in a Jewish city. But a city rabbi who is determined to be a rav, and sees that role as one in which he uses his considerable talent and power to create institutions promoting his own vision of Torah to the exclusion of all others, is likely to stifle or eliminate a range of Torah approaches that might otherwise have served large parts of the population.
Israeli rabbis and public religious figures often criticize the arrangement typical of the American rabbinate, in which mutual accountability between the rabbi and his community is based upon a negotiated contract that can be enforced (if need be) by a court of law. When the contract expires, both sides can re-evaluate the relationship and its terms, and then decide whether or not they want to renew it. The criticism of this system by Israelis can be quite blunt. As one respected academic chuckled and asked: Do we want our rabbis here in Israel to be the poodles of their wealthy congregants like their counterparts are in America?
As someone who studied for semikhah at Yeshivah University and knows many people who serve in the Orthodox American rabbinate, I think that such a characterization is a gross distortion of reality. My friends are not poodles. Furthermore, a rabbi who does act like a poodle (and there are some) will not last long in the American rabbinate. His own congregation will eventually get rid of him.
What the American system really does show is that there are other, better ways to solve the problem of rabbis who rely on a direct mandate from their communities for their livelihood. These include: Teaching rabbis how to negotiate contracts effectively; using national rabbinic organizations (voluntary ones) to help raise employment standards for rabbis; offering legal assistance to rabbis who face breach of contract by their congregations. But the most important tool of all is the American legal system itself, which remedies "the absence of any effective bodies for the control of the activities of the leaders" in the Jewish communities of pre-modern Europe (as described above by Jacob Katz) or Czarist Russia.
All of these moderate means are legitimate and effective ways of building a healthy rabbinate in a democratic country. But the Israeli model of rabbis-for-life, while assuring that the rabbi will not be a poodle, fundamentally alters the two-way relationship between a rabbi and his community by turning into a one-way street. Most Israelis view their local rabbi neither as a source of spirituality nor as a legitimate leader that they have chosen, but rather as a government functionary (which he is).
I once spoke about this issue to a young man who is a talented outreach worker and has intimate knowledge of Israel's rabbinic world. During the conversation I mentioned the outreach work being done by a new Conservative rabbi who had been recently chosen by his synagogue. Open-minded as he was, the young man had no problem at all learning positive techniques from a Conservative rabbi. It was something else I said that shocked him, because it was an idea he had never considered before. He asked with great surprise, "Do you mean to tell me that they simply elect their rabbi on their own?" This idea is the farthest thing possible from the reality of most Israeli synagogues.
The Third Difference: Elected Boards
In mainstream American synagogues, sovereignty is ultimately in the hands of the congregation. There is a rabbi and a board, and both enjoy considerable authority, but both are elected by dues-paying members. As private, non-profit organizations, American synagogues are required to have a constitution or by-laws, which typically specify that the members elect the synagogue board, and confirm a direct congregational vote on the rabbi’s contract. Being a member means that you have a vote about the things that count.
At first glance, it might seem that Israeli synagogues are similar in this regard. In Israel too, synagogue buildings are typically allocated to amutot (private non-profit organizations) and run by them. However, there are two major differences in Israel: municipal participation and membership. The first difference is that in Israel, the municipality is required to provide synagogues to the populace as a public service. This means that the land allocated towards the synagogue is public land, and that the physical synagogue building is partially built with taxpayer funds. Its future upkeep is also a public service, at least in principle. How generous the municipality actually is towards the construction and maintenance of synagogues in any given city depends almost entirely on the political makeup of the town council.
But the real issue at stake is not how many synagogues are built in a given city, nor how much the city contributes towards their construction and maintenance, but rather who gets control over these public assets. When the city builds a synagogue at a certain address, who runs it? Who sits on the initial board? Who chooses the rabbi?
In America the answer to these questions is obvious, because the synagogue simply wouldn't exist without the non-profit organization that established it and runs it. But in Israel, the city itself allocates synagogues to amutot, and it is the municipal officials who decide which amutah gets to run any given synagogue. The decision is likely to have little or nothing to do with the actual preferences of the people who live nearby a synagogue in an Israeli city or town: That populace is usually not directly involved in the establishment of their synagogue nor in choosing who runs it. To a large degree, especially if most residents are secular, they probably won't even care.
Rather, the allocation of synagogues to amutot is almost entirely a matter of political power on the municipal level. This makes it immediately obvious that an amutah without political influence cannot establish a synagogue, even if it represents a substantial group of mitpallelim. But there is more to it when the city's official rabbis are brought into the picture, since they often control religious parties on the town council, as mentioned above. The result is that the allocation of a local synagogue to a specific amutah is dictated by the local religious parties as part of their municipal coalition agreements, very often at the behest of the official rabbinic establishment. Such municipal decisions can sometimes mean the city-rabbis appoint rabbis of their choice to new synagogues even before they have been built: When the construction of nearby houses in a brand new neighborhood is complete and people start to move in, the first-time residents may find that they already have a rabbi, fait accompli.
This method creates a win-win situation for both the municipality and the amutot (but not necessarily for the public): On the one hand, the municipality fulfills its duty to provide local synagogues as a service by letting the amutot take responsibility for them. On the other hand, an amutah is free to run its synagogue as it sees fit. The nearby residents use the synagogue as a service, and no one complains as long as things are basically satisfactory (tefillot take place in a respectable manner, there are shiurim, the secular residents can come occasionally for Yom Kippur or a bar-mitzvah). Rarely does a local resident express interest in the details of synagogue decisions or how they are made, unless he himself is a member of the self-appointed board.
Membership is the second difference between an Israeli amutah and an American synagogue board. Many Israeli synagogues in cities and towns have no official membership policy, and even when they do it usually involves purchasing a service (e.g. a permanent seat) but not gaining a vote. In other words, the principle difference between the two types of synagogue communities is democracy. The by-laws or constitution to be found in a North American synagogue, which puts sovereignty into the hands of the membership, hardly exists in Israel.
This situation is partially for cultural reasons, but also because Israeli amutot are not democratic organizations, neither by law nor by custom. The by-laws of an amutah often don't even exist. When there are by-laws, they are likely to be little-known to the public and hardly followed. And even if they are followed, that by no means indicates that they mandate a true concept of membership, one that includes the right to vote for direct representation on the amutah. Rather, the by-laws usually allow the existing amutah to appoint its own members.
It is also the amutah, and not the membership, that appoints a rabbi for the synagogue. If an amutah decides to do this in the official way, the result will be a lifetime appointment according to law as described earlier. But that is not always possible, especially if the rabbi in question belongs to a different political camp than the city rabbi. In these cases, many amutot implement an alternative that may be no less problematic: appointing the rabbi unofficially without ever consulting the members directly.
This means that the board decides to appoint someone as rabbi for all practical purposes, but makes no public announcement to this effect, and never holds a formal public discussion so that arguments pro and con can be openly considered before putting the matter to a vote. In the long term this results in the chosen rabbi consolidating his authority in the synagogue over time de-facto, regardless of whatever reservations some of the congregants may have.
It also means the rabbi will never have to fear being asked to leave, since there is no contract spelling out mutual obligations that needs to be formally renewed. Such an arrangement has positive aspects too, but it would be far better if it was ratified by the congregation itself and not just by the unelected board.
In short, the allocation of synagogues to amutot by the municipality serves to provide basic religious services to the populace, but also deprives that populace of direct sovereignty over its synagogues. In my opinion the crux of the problem is not municipal involvement per se but rather the undemocratic nature of the amutot that govern synagogues. If there was an enforced concept of membership that included a real vote on the board and on the rabbi, sovereignty could ultimately be restored to Israel's synagogue communities.
Religious Zionism and Israel's Local Rabbinate
For a full generation, from the Six Day War until the Oslo accords, the local rabbinic leadership and religious community life within Israel's cities and towns were non-issues in Religious Zionism. This was not just because of the ideological focus on settling Judea, Samaria and Gaza, but because of other important realities that derived from it. The most important trend had to do with demographics: During this period the vanguard of Religious Zionism shifted heavily towards living in rural settlements, heavily or entirely religious in their makeup, and located especially (but not exclusively) in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
As this happened, Israel's cities and towns became increasingly bereft of Religious Zionism. In addition, even those Religious Zionists who continued living in cities tended to do so in neighborhoods that were heavily or completely religious, a process which continually weakened the dati-leumi population and its institutions that remained in all other neighborhoods (i.e. those still living amongst the majority of Israel's population). One result of this was that the official rabbinate in regular Israeli neighborhoods became irrelevant to Religious Zionism.
To better understand this point, remember that throughout this essay we have been discussing the official local rabbinate in urban areas (cities and towns). But the situation for small settlements is entirely different, for the simple reason that rabbis are chosen directly in such places. The people themselves can elect their own rabbi, instead of a weighted committee.
And thus for more than a generation the vanguard of Religious Zionism enjoyed having the rabbis of its choice, while the harsh reality of local rabbinic leadership (as known to the majority of Israel's population) became ever less relevant to them. It is no accident that while the majority of Israel's official local rabbinate is hareidi in urban areas, the majority of Zionist rabbis who enjoy official positions serve in small settlements, where most Israelis do not live.
The second important trend was the veritable revolution in educational institutions, yeshivot and schools, that took place during this period. The explosion of yeshivot tikhoniyot for boys and ulpanot for girls, and especially of high-level Zionist batei midrash such as yeshivot (hesder or otherwise) and kollelim, not only changed the face of Religious Zionism in general, but also provided an alternative to the official rabbinic leadership for the younger generation. This vibrant world of Torah served to make the official local rabbinate ever more irrelevant from the perspective of Religious Zionism.
It should be stressed that yeshivot in Israel, unlike rabbinic positions, are private institutions. They have no coercive power, and they are fully accountable to the population that they serve, namely their students. From the perspective of young students, the Zionist yeshivah world is a free market: They themselves choose which yeshivah to study at, voting with their feet. It is precisely this very form of freedom, accountability, and open competition which has produced the flowering of an entire world of Torah in Israel over the last generation, astonishing in both its quality and its quantity.
But the flowering of Zionist Torah institutions over the course of a generation mainly happened in the centers of Religious Zionist population, and not in the cities and towns where most Israelis lived (and which most Religious Zionists avoided). The overwhelming majority of yeshivot hesder, for instance, were built over the green line. This reality is what led to the initial calls for Religious Zionists to begin to "settle within the hearts" of the People of Israel (le-hitnahel ba-levavot), instead of focusing on the Land of Israel. These calls became ever more forceful after the Oslo accords, and nearly hysterical during the disengagement from Gaza.
On a personal level, one of the memories that shaped my life as an oleh was taking part in nonviolent demonstrations against the Oslo accords during 1995, especially the blocking of highways. What shocked and intensely bothered me was the fact that the only people who really took the issues and the demonstrations seriously were Religious Zionists. Even as a new immigrant, these protests made it obvious to me how utterly disconnected this population was from the real life of most Israelis, and how at the very same time saw itself as an elite that could and should decide the country's policies. In 1995 I decided that demonstrations were worthless in Israel for this reason, and stopped attending them.
During these very same years, certain groups within Religious Zionism began creating what came to be called the Garin Torani, thus far Religious Zionism's only major answer to local rabbinic leadership in Israel's "regular" cities and towns. Reacting to the demographic imbalance of yeshivot over the green line, kollelim and yeshivot began to be planted in regular urban areas. Although the public image of the garinim has them being established in "weak" outlying areas such as the Galilee and the Negev, this is not strictly true: Garinim were actually established (and continue to be) in all types of urban areas, whether in the country's main population centers (such as Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan) or in the "periphery" (such as Karmiel and Nazeret Illit). The idea of planting a kollel or yeshivah in every city was the basic model for a Garin Torani, as championed by Keren Moreshet, the major national organization that sponsored them at the behest of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.
However, though the timing coincided with major political turbulence (the Oslo accords, Rabin assassination, and later the disengagement from Gaza), in my opinion the connection between these events and the Garinim Torani'im is largely a matter of public misperception and political opportunism. When the political leadership of Religious Zionism desperately wanted to claim that Religious Zionists really were in touch with the mainstream population of Israel, the garinim provided them with the perfect example of intense involvement to point at. With all the talk about le-hitnahel ba-levavot, the garinim seemed to be a perfect expression of that exact desire. So the connection was made. The problem is that convincing as it sounds, it fails to take into account the actual proclamations of Keren Moreshet and the local leadership of the garinim when they were established. In most cases, they stressed that their main goal in coming was to "strengthen" the "weak" local religious population, not to bridge gaps with the larger public.
To understand these statements, the unstated political implications of two Hebrew words need to be stressed: Torani (as in Garin Torani) and "to strengthen" (le-hazzek). In Israeli religious parlance, both of these seemingly innocuous terms are tools for de-legitimization: When a religious Israeli declares that a certain institution, or behavior, or way of life is "Torani", he usually means that other models are not what the Torah really wants.
The word Torani is used to reject the alternative positions of religious Jews and their rabbis, in much the same way that "Torah-true Judaism" is used in hareidi publications in English. The same thing is true of "to strengthen": This verb almost always advocates reinforcing certain behaviors that are usually associated with a hareidi lifestyle. Typical examples of Torani and hizzuk might be the rejection of co-education (not only in school classrooms but even in the Bnei Akiva youth movement), the derision of academia, and especially the acceptance of extreme views about rabbinic authority (reminiscent of the hareidi ideology of da'at Torah).
In addition, Torani also usually means the rejection of specific Zionist Torah scholars and of their views, not as a mutually respectful disagreement, but to the extent that those who hold such views are to be excluded from full, active participation in the beit ha-midrash. In some institutions their books may even be removed from the shelves.[viii] It is no accident that the views and personalities typically rejected with the word Torani are those that are typical of Modern Orthodoxy.
It is my opinion that the true goal of the classic garinim, through planting yeshivot and kollelim in Israeli cities, was not for Religious Zionists to "settle among the hearts" of the people of Israel, but rather to promote a very specific version of Torah and Religious Zionism to the exclusion of all others. This is accomplished by declaring the new beit ha-midrash to be the "heart" of a Garin Torani and eventually of an entire religious community. What is rarely declared openly, but usually a carefully planned factor, is that within the beit ha-midrash at the heart of things only one voice is allowed to be heard: the "kav" of the rosh ha-yeshivah (which means the same thing as the "proper hashkofoh" at an American black-hat yeshivah). Although the garinim are often thought of as the local representatives of Religious Zionism as a whole, in reality only those who agree with the kav have a voice. Thus a garin not only has the opportunity to promote its own vision of Torah, but also to stifle other visions. What religious community project could possibly receive Religious Zionist support if the local Garin Torani opposes it?[ix]
The essential problem is that even though the yeshivot represent free and open competition from the perspective of their students, that is not true at all for local residents. Yeshivot are private institutions, so the local population doesn't get to vote on receiving a garin into its midst, nor what kind of garin it would like (there are alternatives to the typical kind that I have described here[x]). And the garin itself chooses which local residents may join it. As a local resident you can choose not to be part of a garin, but you cannot choose what kind of garin to have.
The situation is very similar to Habad emissaries. In 2007 an article appeared in the American Jewish press comparing Habad rabbis to more typical community rabbis. After describing the many ways in which Habad is unusually successful, the author related the reactions of American community rabbis to his description as follows:
They bristled. Not because they don't see value in an open, pluralist, easy-entry, cleverly marketed Judaism. Rather, they recognized the structural differences that separate them from Habad.
One of these is accountability to a kehillah, a community. The American synagogue is a self-governed partnership among stakeholders and rabbis—employers and employees. It's a delicate dance, but in the tension between a rabbi's authority and the congregation's diverse needs, most synagogues reach an accommodation that reflects the values of their membership and movement.
You can't fire your Habad rabbi. As a result, their flexibility and creativity often comes with a whiff of condescension.[xi]
It has been said that Habad is extremely tolerant of people (i.e. every Jew is welcomed with open arms no matter who he is or what he believes), but is far less tolerant of ideas. In other words, there is a condition to that open welcome, namely that the policies of Habad and its local emissary are not to be challenged. The same thing is true of a Garin Torani: It welcomes every local Israeli to its public events as long as it sets the rules.
Like a Habad house, a Garin Torani can claim that it excludes no one from its activities. However, unlike a Habad House which normally fills an important niche alongside the mainstream Jewish community, a Garin Torani aims to be the Religious Zionist community. It presents itself as exactly such, and is automatically so regarded by the Religious Zionist world, even though local Religious Zionists have little say in the matter and some of them might prefer an alternative.
Another difference is on a personal level: While Habad emissaries are known for their warmth and for opening their homes to the public, the inner circles of a Garin Torani tend to be far more insular. They invite the public to certain planned events, but are far less enthusiastic about opening their private homes to the local religious community, especially not if such openness is expected to be mutual.[xii] A Garin Torani may invite everyone to its public events, but at the very same time find ways to quietly shun those who don't conform with with the kav, besides silencing them in the beit ha-midrash.
In short, the Garin Torani has been Religious Zionism's major attempt to fill the void in the rabbinic leadership of Israel's cities and towns over the past decade or so, a void created by the vast failure of the official rabbinate. But it is not a democratic option and should not be mistaken for such. The head of a Garin Torani is no more accountable to a specific community than is a city rabbi. Neither of them is voted on, neither of them is subject to a contract, and neither of them can be fired.
There is only one remaining alternative to the official rabbis on the one hand, and the Garin Torani on the other hand, and that is voluntarily communities. Though political and economic realities work against them in most places, voluntary Orthodox synagogues—governed directly by their memberships and hiring their own rabbis—have succeeded in a number of places in Israel.
They usually work best in urban areas where the Religious Zionist population is relatively large and wealthy, and are often found where large numbers of English-speaking immigrants live, such as Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, and Raanana. There is also a well-known example in Caesaria, and several new ones in Modi'in.[xiii] In my opinion, this is the model that should be made widely available in all of Israel's cities and towns (not just for the elite), and I have already published a blueprint for doing so.[xiv] But the odds are currently stacked against it in most places, and the opposition from both the official local rabbinate and the Garinim Torani'im can be quite fierce.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel and its local functionaries are likely to be with us for a very long time. It is always possible that a particular political constellation in the Knesset could change or limit the local rabbinate, but to abolish it entirely seems inconceivable. The most recent Knesset elections (February 2009) resulted in a parliament that could have gone very far in that direction theoretically, but in the end it seems that only very limited reforms will be made to the rabbinical courts and marriage laws, and none at all to the local rabbinate. Those who oppose any change in the present system are perennial coalition members, while the local rabbinate is off the radar screen for those politicians who might be open to making changes. Unlike the rabbinic courts, hardly anyone knows or cares that the problem exists.
Nevertheless, no one can really predict the future in a country with as many social and political surprises as Israel. It is therefore important to raise awareness of these issues and press for change. This may bear fruit in unexpected ways, and that is the purpose of this essay. Such pressure can and does bring results in the long run, as the high-profile activity directed at the rabbinical courts has shown.
On a universalistic level, I have argued here that the structure of Israel's current rabbinate is no less a violation of human rights than its rabbinic court system, even though the local rabbinate is hardly on the public agenda at all. And on a Jewish level I have paradoxically argued that the current rabbinic monopoly stifles the growth of Torah communities and distorts Orthodox rabbinic leadership far more than it harms liberal or secular Israelis. Perhaps in this case, as Rav Kook might have said, we still need the help of secular Zionism to save the Torah for those who study and observe it.
In Eastern Europe, when a rabbi was appointed by the gentile government rather than elected by the Jewish kehillah, he was called a rav mi-ta'am because his allegiance was to outsiders. In modern Israel, official local rabbis are in the striking position of being accountable to absolutely no human address at all. They are not accountable to the population over which they have jurisdiction. A city rabbi is also not accountable to the hierarchy of the Chief Rabbinate, but rather has the freedom to act with almost complete independence as mara de-atra. And he is not really even accountable to the Israeli government and its laws, because no meaningful sanctions exist to counter quasi-legal (or illegal) behavior of a rabbi who cannot be removed from his position. Being accountable to no human power, the official local rabbinate is Israel is a rabbanut b’li ta'am (in both senses of the word). Just like a person who doesn't understand human love cannot know what it means to love God, so too a rabbi who has not been held accountable to men cannot know what it means to be held accountable to God.
Other alternative types of community structures such as the Garin Torani and the Habad House are also unaccountable to any specific kehillah, but at least they are private endeavors without legal powers of coercion. What is lacking in all of these models, both the official rabbinate and the amutot running the private alternatives, is a strong sense of representative democracy—the idea that ultimate, direct sovereignty over all appointments lies solely with the community.
"Community" has become a very important word in Israel over the past decade, especially in the religious world. This in itself is a very positive development.[xv] However, I hope this essay has shown that "community" alone is not enough, and that democracy is absolutely necessary as well. Furthermore, it is specifically Modern Orthodoxy, because it sees democracy and accountability as fundamental community values, that suffers most from the authoritarian systems at work in Israel.
It is therefore vital for American and Israeli rabbis and community leaders who believe in the principle of community democracy to state so clearly and act upon it: To support Israeli community programs and charities only when they make an absolute commitment to liberal and transparent membership criteria and direct local votes on their leadership; to support the community projects of Israelis rabbis only when they themselves are elected by a vote of community members and subject to a contract. In addition, to work only with Israeli rabbis who welcome the full and active participation of all Torah personalities and perspectives in their community batei midrash, from the entire range of Religious Zionism.[xvi]
I want to stress that the fundamental problem in Israel is not rabbis, but communities. There are currently a number of programs geared towards providing Religious Zionist rabbis with the personal and professional skills they need to serve as community leaders (the best known is at Bar-Ilan University).
This is of course a wonderful development, but it tackles the lesser problem and not the greater one, because the vibrant yeshivah world of Religious Zionism has produced hundreds or thousands of talented Torah scholars who would already make excellent community leaders in Israel, if only they had communities to serve. The real problem is not a lack of rabbis or training (though good training is surely welcome), but a lack of democratic, urban religious communities capable of hiring the rabbi of their choice.
The culture of democratic rabbinic leadership is missing in Israeli synagogue life, mostly due to the official rabbinate's monopoly; that culture desperately needs to be nurtured so that excellent Israeli rabbis can be invited by independent communities to use their talent where it is needed most.
What can be done to make this happen? Beyond educating people about the present system, as this essay has tried to do, and pushing for legal and political steps to be taken against it, two positive things need to happen in order to create real alternatives in Israel's cities and towns:
1. Empower existing Israeli synagogues. Create a federation of voluntary urban synagogues in Israel, those committed to democracy, openness, and reaching out to the entire population around them. Dr. Amnon Shapira has already created the initial framework for such a federation by putting together an informal group of like-minded synagogue communities that learn from each other's activities. This wonderful group should be supported, expanded, and made into an organization that provides mutual support.
2. Encourage and empower Israeli citizens to start their own voluntary synagogues. In America, an out-of-town Jewish community of 50,000 would typically boast several Modern Orthodox synagogues, each with a freely chosen Modern Orthodox rabbi. In Israel, a Jewish town of the same size might easily have 30 different Orthodox synagogues and minyanim, but not a single one of them with a freely chosen Modern Orthodox rabbi (or his Israeli equivalent). In other words, a federation of existing voluntary synagogues is not enough; rather, such a federation needs to empower Israeli citizens even where no such synagogue exists. If several people want such a synagogue in a place where there isn't one, the federation of voluntary synagogues needs to help them find a proper place to create a minyan, guide them in building their community, and ultimately help them find an appropriate rabbi.
Fledgling communities must have the moral support and political backing of a recognized national organization in order to accomplish these things. Otherwise, the realities described in this article are likely to render such efforts impossible.
Finally, voluntary communities in Israel need real, living examples of what Modern Orthodox community life can be like. That is why American Modern Orthodox rabbis can contribute more than anyone else in the world to building a culture of democratic community life in Israel.
We need your experience, your expertise, and the human models provided by your congregations. We need your congregants, those who help you build your communities, to become personally involved in the real-life of religious Israeli society: not as charities and not just where English-speakers typically live, but right at the pulse of mainstream Israeli life. We need the influence you have over Israeli organizations to help them adjust to the idea of democratic synagogue communities. You are rightfully proud of your beautiful kehillot: This essay asks you to let them have a direct impact on the structure of kehillot in the State of Israel!
This article may be used freely according to the terms of the CC-BY-SA license.
Rabbi Dr. Seth Kadish earned his Ph.D. at the University of Haifa (2006) in Medieval Jewish Philosophy. He previously studied at Yeshiva University were he received his rabbinic ordination and master's degrees in Bible and Jewish Education. He currently teaches in the overseas school of the University of Haifa. He also teaches immigrant soldiers in the education corps of the Israeli Defense Forces; and adult Israeli Jewish education for the Hebrew University's Melton School. He is the author of "Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer."
[i]  For the actual laws and procedures applying to city rabbis, see "????? ?????? ??? ???????? (?????? ???? ???), ????"? 2007" (http://www.justice.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/2FB89337-60EC-407D-B2CD-590B09EA1DB2/8633/6613.pdf ).
[ii]  Jacob Katz, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages (New York: Schoken, 1961), pp. 106-107.
[iii]  Changing the terms of the nation's chief rabbis to just 10 years was the result of a political ploy by the National Religious Party in the 1980s, designed to remove Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef from his position and make way for more "Zionist" figures. But all local rabbis are still appointed for life in Israel; it is the original, lifetime system for the chief rabbis as well which best represents the original values that still govern the system as a whole.
[iv]  Perhaps by using his clout at city hall to stifle funding to a religious public school, or to create bureaucratic obstructions to the physical expansion of a school that is bursting at the seams with students.
[v]  I know a couple personally who went to a well-regarded city rabbi to be married, and when a serious halakhic issue turned up he sent them to a beit din. The couple understood neither the problem nor the beit din's decision, and instead lived together as husband and wife for 14 years, never understanding why they had been denied a chuppah. The matter was finally resolved when they turned to Rabbi Seth Farber's "Itim" organization, and he conducted their chuppah after successfully conducting their case through Israel's Supreme Rabbinical Court. For our purposes, what is important is the role of the city rabbi in this case: Once he referred the matter to a beit din, it was out of his hands and no longer his legal responsibility. He had no reason to take any further interest in the couple's welfare, even though by law he is their rabbi.
[vi]  As mara de-atra, this decision is completely up to him. A city rabbi can choose, for instance, to cast doubt on the validity of official certificates issued by the rabbinate itself, such as a conversion certificate, or even a certificate by the military rabbinate verifying the death of a spouse in combat (for a recent such case see http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3711130,00.html ). In all such cases the couple has no way at all to get married, even though other halakhic authorities have already deemed them marriageable.
[vii]  To fire a city rabbi for illegal behavior or corruption, an extreme situation the law theoretically provides for, is nearly impossible in practice. In serious cases there will be a reprimand; a fine is exceedingly rare. And even if open involvement in the municipal elections by rabbis was a behavior that the state took seriously by mandating heavy sanctions, there is no doubt that city-rabbis-for-life would find other, quieter ways of accomplishing the same thing.
[viii]  This act is so extreme that it gives those "Zionist" yeshivot who silence other personalities and perspectives, but nevertheless leave their books on the shelves, an opportunity to look moderate!
[ix]  Keren Kehillot, the organization that took over maintenance of the mainstream yeshivah/kollel garinim after the demise of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu's Keren Moreshet, seems to be aware of some of these problems, but unwilling to admit their full severity. According to its website (http://www.keren-kehilot.org.il/odot.aspx ), Keren Kehillot requires that "the activities of the garin are to be conducted through cooperation with local residents, with an attitude of humility and not superiority" and that the number of families in the garin should be increased by accepting new members "both from the local populace and through families that move to the community in order to join it". But the organization also requires that a garin be led by a rosh kollel and include at its heart "a live, dynamic beit midrash that will meet the Torah and social needs of garin members and the wider community, in the hope that it will bring the garin's activities will grow out of it". The crux of the problem is never mentioned, namely that a beit midrash promoting a single, exclusive version of Torah and excluding other Torah voices cannot help but be paternalistic towards those in the local community who think otherwise, and cannot possibly meet the wide and varied needs of the public at large.
[x]  In this essay I have focused solely on the Keren Moreshet model, whose essential feature is a specific kind of beit midrash at its core. To the best of my knowledge, this describes a very large number of garinim (probably most). There are other models however, of which the most successful and famous example is the community garin in Lod. I believe that each garin should be judged individually on its own merits, neither being given automatic recognition and support simply because it is the local garin, nor by being judged collectively.
[xi]  Andrew Silow-Carroll, "Chabad Influence". New Jersey Jewish News (August 11, 2007).
[xii]  A sure sign of openness versus insularity in a Garin Torani is whether the yeshivah allows members of the local religious community to invite bachurim home for meals on Shabbat (whether in an organized fashion or with an individual invitation). Along the same lines is whether or not older married avrekhim (who cannot conceivably be forbidden from being invited out) see a Shabbat invitation as a positive thing, and whether they open their own homes to reciprocate.
[xiii]  Modi'in has the extra advantage of being one of the few cities in Israel without a municipal religious council, traditionally one of the city rabbi's sources of power and influence over local neighborhood communities. This makes it even easier to set up unofficial voluntarily synagogue communities. In addition, it is still a very young city with no entrenched religious establishment to stifle new initiatives, and with a large and well-to-do Religious Zionist population near the center of the country. All of these advantages have fostered a range of very positive voluntary communities there.
[xiv]  See "The Open Jewish Community" (available at http://skadish1.googlepages.com/open-torah ), which first appeared in the Shabbat Magazine of Makor Rishon, Shabbat Hol ha-Moed Sukkot, 5766.
[xv]  Until about a decade ago, Israelis commonly said that kehillah was a galutrav kehillah could perform a wedding: The argument was that the very existence of independent religious communities in Israel utterly negates the national idea of a Jewish homeland and Rav Kook's vision for the rabbinate. That argument, of course, rests on the assumption that national institutions must be built in hierarchies from the top down. But it fails to consider the possibility that the kehillot of exile were themselves a surviving layer of national Jewish sovereignty rather than a substitute for it, and are crucial to restoring national sovereignty by building from the bottom up. Independent, sovereign kehillot and their rabbis can join each other voluntarily to create national synagogue and rabbinic institutions; organized community and rabbinic leadership for a Jewish nation can sprout up from the grass roots in a much truer way than from within a government hierarchy. Far from being a return to exile, the restoration of independent kehillot to the State of Israel can be the vehicle for the restoration of Torah to the entire nation. The success of the Israeli yeshivah world proves that the way to grow Torah in a modern society is from the grassroots up, with free competition between independent, sovereign communities.
[xvi]  These are some examples of current attitudes that must be utterly rejected: "We allow our young students to hear but a single voice in the beit midrash. When they are older and married they can be exposed to other perspectives." Or: "We know there are yeshivot that allow different perspectives to coexist within the same beit midrash. That does not make educational sense and it is not our way." Or: "A person involved in academia will never give a devar Torah in my beit midrash." Or: "We’ve come here to declare our powerful truth in the clearest possible way, with no compromises!" Or finally: "We are a yeshivah with a kav." Such a beit midrash is a certain recipe for paternalism within a community, and it will never be able to meet the wide ranging needs of people in an Israeli city.