Thursday, September 27, 2007

An Agenda for Tzohar

Rabbi Elli Fischer, who I don't know but whose writing I've often admired, has thrown down the gauntlet at Tzohar. Basically, he sees them as well-intentioned but lacking both the guts and the vision to do what needs to be done in re-forming a/the rabbinate. Most of what he says has merit. One paragraph, though, was particularly jarring. Fischer writes:

Ultimately, they suffer from no small amount of hubris; they feel that they have a better finger on the pulse of ‘the people’ than today’s local official rabbis. Indeed, there are segments of the population – the urban Religious-Zionists and religious kibbutzniks, for example, and perhaps even the pro-Jewish but anti-religious cosmopolitan secular Ashkenazim- that they understand better than today’s empowered rabbis. ‘The people’ also live in Afula, though, not just Ra’anana.

To begin with, any and all would-be reformers require a heavy dose of hubris. To think otherwise would be naive. Indeed, Hazal were more than willing to countenance a positive self-image in the advancement of Torah.

I don't think that's the issue. I fear that Rabbi Fischer is accusing Tzohar of racism, anti-Sephardic, paternalist racism. Otherwise, what does he mean by contrasting the well-heeled of Ra'anana with the downtrodden of Afula?

This is a cheap shot, unworthy of its source. True, Tzohar derives much of its support from Ashkenazim, and especially westernized Israelis. However, it is specifically the sympathy that it elicits among this popoulation that will facilitate the success of its efforts. However, it is unfair to ignore the important impact that Tzohar has had among non-Ashkenazi Jews, helping to staunch the secularization that has been spreading there among.

Besides, this is not about Tzohar. this is about cleaning the Augean Stables of religion in Israel. Many, many rabbis (who, like myself, are not members of Tzohar) will hopefully join together to support their efforts. Our community has produced more than enough talented, God-fearing rabbanim and dayyanim to man alternative rabbinic structures, which can be made largely venality-free. (There are no total guarantees.)

The real challenge lies in simultaneously creating a community/shul rabbinate that will serve the people while not being dependent thereupon financially. (Here, I agree with Fischer.) That means: a) Mandatory general education for rabbis b) Mandatory pastoral training c) Mandatory management training.

A two pronged effort to create a rabbinic network and a parallel rabbinate for kashrut would go a long way to saving this country's soul. Yes, there are dangers (like Reform and Conservative tremping). However, the alternative is worse.

So, if Rabbi Fischer has ideas, let him please spell them out...without the nasty edge.


Anonymous said...

FWIW - Fischer used to work for Tzohar and he ha[d/s] great ideas for Tzohar.

ADDeRabbi said...

I can't believe I never saw this post before.
In defense of Rabbi Fischer (I feel qualified to speak for him), I'd say the following. First of all, I'm sure he's sorry if he came off sounding accusatory. The point he was trying to make is that Tzohar often brands itself as being 'Rabbinate for the people' (they actually use that slogan in some of their literature), whereas their product really is geared toward a specific segment of the people. The point he was making with the Afula quip is that people tend to confuse their circles as 'the people'. It's an accusation of benign ethnocentrism, not racism.