Current AffairsIsrael

Liars, Thieves, and Hypocrites at the Chief Rabbinate

Former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron is being indicted for ordering the rabbinate to issue phony ordination certificates to 1,500 police and army officers.  Having an academic degree — and rabbinic ordination counts as an academic degree — gets people working for the government a higher salary.  Rabbi Bakshi-Doron allegedly agreed to the scheme in order to maintain the support of certain key rabbis.

There is no doubt that this happened: ten people have already been charged, some of whom accepted a plea bargain, the rest are going to trial.  What’s new today is that the former chief rabbi is being formally charged in the crime as well.  You can read the whole story at Haaretz. The rabbi was originally a witness for the prosecution, but his testimony caused the police to deepen their investigation, and their conclusion was that instead of being ignorant of what was going on, R. Bakshi-Doron actually instructed the rabbinate to IGNORE the fact that the students weren’t qualified, but to go ahead and issue them ordination certificates anyway.

Admittedly, at this stage, these are only allegations — he hasn’t been convicted as yet.  But whether he was directly involved or not, clearly a number of rabbis on the staff of the rabbinate WERE involved, very directly.  This is outrageously shameful behavior on so many fronts it’s almost hard to know where to start.

First of all, it’s theft.  It’s theft on a grand scale — millions of shekels are involved.  And it’s theft from me personally, an Israeli taxpayer.  Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that even cheating on a test is theft, because it may get you a raise or a job that you are not entitled to.  Al achat kama v’kama, all the more so, to fraudulently receive an entire degree or certificate.

It’s also fraud.  The government thinks they are getting a more qualified employee, and all they are getting is a more connected employee.

It’s deceit.  Obviously there will be people who will look up to these new “rabbis” as if they have a large body of Torah knowledge.  As if they are qualified to rule on halachic questions.  And they do not and are not.

It’s not fair.  It’s not fair to the people who worked hard to actually get an academic degree or rabbinic ordination to earn a pay raise, and it’s not fair to those who are “equally unqualified” but who don’t get the raise because they didn’t have friends in high places who would lie for them and issue them false rabbinic certificates.

It’s illegal.  Obviously such behavior is against not only Torah law, but also secular law.  The principle of dina d’malkhuta dina, the law of the land is the law, tells us that as a matter of halacha we have to obey the laws of the country where we live, unless they directly contradict the Torah.

It’s a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.  It would be bad enough if it were a secular academic institution engaging in such unethical behavior.  The fact that it was not only rabbis, but rabbis associated with what is theoretically the highest rabbinical body in the state that was doing this will certainly make secular Jews and Gentiles think less of our holy Torah and religion. People could rightly ask, “If this is what they learn from being “Torah scholars,” who needs it?”

And last, but for me personally far from least, is the hypocrisy.  I studied, hard, full time, for four years, including a year in Israel, to earn my rabbinic ordination.  I completed the Daf Yomi cycle, I’ve studied all 5,722 Aramaic pages of the Babylonian Talmud.  I actually know a fair amount of Torah.  Yet according to that same rabbinate, I’m not “qualified” as a rabbi, because I’m not Orthodox, and I can’t officiate at a legally recognized wedding in the state of Israel.  Yet these 1,500 men (and of course they are all men, no such thing as women rabbis in that world) are now rabbis recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel.  The hypocrisy involved in this disgusts me.

This is simply further proof that the institution of the “Chief Rabbinate” is one of the least useful leftovers from the days of the Ottoman and British Empires.  America gets along fine without a “chief rabbi.”  So would Israel.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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