Rabbi Goren Favored to Win in Chief Rabbinate Elections-but Opposition is Determined

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, is widely favored to win the post of Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in the elections to be held later this summer. Rabbi Goren gained nationwide popularity during his dashing career as Chief Chaplain of the Armed Forces for over 20 years. More important, he has the backing of both the Labor Party and the National Religious Party in his attempt to topple the present incumbent octogenarian Chief Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman. A mixed college of rabbis and laymen elect the Chief Rabbis.

Rabbi Goren’s popularity, however, is not universal. The Orthodox right wing both in Israel and in the US, broadly represented by the Aguda Party, is solidly against him. They accuse him of deliberately creating the impression that he can solve all halachic problems whereas in truth he knows that he cannot-if he is to remain within the confines of traditional halacha (religious law).

The rightists therefore are throwing themselves behind the aged Rabbi Unterman, urging him to stand for re-election and assuring him of their unswerving support if he does so. Rabbi Unterman announced recently that he has succumbed to this pressure and will indeed stand again.

This situation has its bizarre side: Throughout his long life, Rabbi Unterman has been the bogey man of the Agudist right. He was too “Zionist” for them. Now he is to be their saviour against the greater evil-Goren.

The Chief Rabbinate election comes at a time of crisis in the precarious state and religion balance, and the political support for Rabbi Goren, particularly from the Labor Party, is given on the understanding that once installed he will come up with the solutions to please everyone. The Labor Party, and particularly Mrs. Meir herself, are determined to find a solution to the case of Hanoch and Miriam Langer, the brother and sister who were adjudged mamzerim (illegitimate) by a religious court and are therefore not allowed to marry ordinary Jews under the halacha-and hence under Israeli law. (Marriage and divorce law in Israel is governed by halacha,)

Also, Gideon Hausner’s civil marriage bill has focused public attention on the problem of the Cohens and divorcees, who are forbidden to marry each other under halacha.

Rabbi Goren maintains that the Langers are not “mamzers” under halacha. He says he can solve, halachically, at least 90 percent of all cases of “mamzer” which could arise. (Such cases are very rare-a “mamzer” is the product of adultery or incest.) Goren has not pronounced on the far more common but less severe problem of Cohen and divorcee.

Rabbi Goren strongly denies the persistent reports that he has made a “deal” with the Prime Minister to “solve” thorny problems. How could he, he says, make any deal which would involve his stepping outside the bounds of halacha? Halacha does not have the answer to everything, he admits, though it has to most things, he says.

Mrs. Meir and other Labor leaders have said privately, however, that Rabbi Goren’s election is in effect the last chance of averting a religious kulturkampf. Only he, they say, with his unquestioned halachic authority and lenient approach, which takes into account the best interests of the State and the nation, can bring about harmony between religious and secular.

Some circles in Israel oppose Rabbi Goren’s election for fear of what the more adventurous side of his character might lead him to do, In 1967 it was only a direct order from Moshe Dayan himself which prevented Goren from holding a prayer service on the Temple Mount. As Chief Rabbi he might, it is feared, refuse to take orders from anyone, and by worshipping on the Temple Mount, poison Israel’s relations even further with the entire Moslem world. When asked about the Temple Mount issue, Goren always replies that the time is not ripe to talk about it.

If elected, Goren says he will call an international conference of Rabbis-a body akin to the Sanhedrin of old, though without the same format or halachic powers-to discuss all the religious problems of the 70′s.

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