Reflections From a Rabbinical Student in Israel
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I do not want the State of Israel to consider me a rabbi.
To be fair, at the moment, no one should call me a rabbi; I still have a few years of studies before I will be ordained at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. However, even after my ordination, I do not want the government to judge my worthiness to be a religious leader. I would much prefer the government worry about issues other than the way its citizens connect to God, spirituality, and halacha.
Instead, I would prefer the government worry about the services it provides its citizens, such as national defense, infrastructure, and education. The state provides a number of social services, such as health care, funerals, and even weddings, and it is precisely for this reason that I am so glad that the state has decided to fund non-Orthodox rabbis.
Maintaining a practice that goes back to the Ottoman period, Israel recognizes a number of religions that it then funds to provide certain services. These services, in turn, can only be provided by a religious body. As a result, two Catholics who wish to marry must do so via a state-recognized priest, while two Jews who wish to marry must do so via a state-recognized rabbi, who is always Orthodox. The system has a number of flaws, most seriously in that it does not allow someone who is not recognized as a member of any of these religions to marry at all, a particularly common problem among some immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not recognized as Jewish by Orthodox halacha. In addition, the system forces one who wishes to get married, apparently considered a civil right by the state, to adhere to a certain religious standard when doing so.
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